The opioid epidemic is bad enough, but recent studies show a sharp increase in the number of people who use sedatives in addition to their opioids. In fact, researchers report that overdose death rates are ten times higher among people who are using this dangerous combination. Whether your physician prescribed both medications, or you decided on your own to try combining opioids with benzos, here are some reasons why you should stop.
Why People are Combining Opioids with Benzos
According to NIH, about 4.3 million people are combining opioids with benzos, also known as polydrug use, and the FDA strongly advises against doing so. Recreational drug users often use this combination to enhance the euphoric effects.
Opioids and benzodiazepines are two of the most frequently abused drugs in the world. They are also the most widely prescribed drugs for treating pain and anxiety. It’s not uncommon for a person to be given an anti-anxiety prescription for Xanax while also receiving oxycodone to treat chronic pain.
Dangers of Polydrug Use
Many legitimate users of opioids often take benzodiazepines to enhance the painkilling properties of their opioid. Regardless of the reasons for polydrug use, the dangers are significant.
The danger of mixing these drugs lies in the sedative effects produced by both drugs. Breathing slows dramatically. As a result, respiratory failure causes a lack of oxygen to the brain, eventually shutting down vital organs and this is one of the main causes of death when a person combines these drugs.
To further highlight the dangers of combining opioids with benzos, in one year, 30 percent of people who died of an opioid overdose also tested positive for benzos.
Many physicians prescribe non-benzodiazepine drugs known as Z-drugs such as Ambien (Zolpidem), Lunesta (Eszopiclone), and Sonata (Zaleplon). Although these drugs are less habit-forming than benzos, they are dangerous when combined with opioids.
Shocking Statistics Reveal a Deadly Trend
It’s hard to imagine, but more than 115 people die from opioid overdoses each day. Studies reveal a few more surprising facts that will help you understand the scope of the problem.
- More than 30 percent of opioid overdoses also involve benzos.
- Research shows that patients receiving opioid prescriptions are four times more likely to receive a benzodiazepine prescription as well.
- Between 1996 and 2013, benzodiazepine prescriptions increased by 67%.
- In that same time frame, the quantity obtained increased for 1.1 kg to 3.6 kg per 100,00 adults.
- From 2001 to 2013, concurrent opioid and benzo prescriptions increased by 80 percent.
- Studies show that between 2001 and 2013, the percentage of persons receiving benzo prescriptions rose to 17 percent, an increase from 9 percent.
- The overdose death rate among people using both drugs concurrently was 10 times higher than in those receiving only opioids.
- More than 50 million benzodiazepine prescriptions are written yearly.
- Benzo tolerance and dependence can develop in as little as two days.
According to Eric Sun, MD, Ph.D., a lead anesthesiologist in the above study:
“It’s probably pretty well known that prescribing an opioid and a benzodiazepine is a potentially risky combination. One of the goals of our paper was to see the extent to which this still occurred despite this knowledge. Overall, we found that it happens, but more importantly, it’s been increasing over time.”
Treating Anxiety Without Benzos
It’s not uncommon for someone who is suffering from chronic pain or illness to experience anxiety from time to time. However, many of these individuals are using some form of painkiller and other medications. Adding benzos to the mix can put these persons at risk of overdose.
If someone has a history of substance abuse or is using prescribed painkillers, their anxiety can be addressed in a number of ways. For instance, the physician can suggest cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational therapy, interpersonal therapy, or group support, among others.
If you would like more information about combining opioids and benzos, please contact us at our toll-free number.
drugabuse.gov – Benzodiazepines and Opioids
cesar.umd.edu – Benzodiazepines
scopeblog.stanford.edu – Taking Painkillers with Sleeping Pills is an Increasingly Risky Business