Drug overdoses took the lives of over 72,000 Americans in the year 2017 alone, which was an astonishing 10% increase over previous years. The death toll for drug overdoses has eclipsed the yearly peak totals for gun deaths, HIV-related deaths, and automobile accidents, furthering highlighting the severity of the crisis. (1)
A large proportion of these drug overdose deaths involve two drug classes, that when taken in combination, greatly increase the chances of a fatal overdose occurring.
Here we take a look at the disturbing trend of benzodiazepine and opioid related drug overdose deaths.
What are benzodiazepines and opioids?
Opioids are medications derived from opium poppy that are commonly prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain. Examples of prescription painkillers include morphine, Oxycotin, Vicodin, Percocet, Dilaudid, and many more.
Opioids also include illicit street drugs, the most famous being heroin.
Opioids alone carry an extremely high risk for overdose and death, and are involved in the large majority of drug overdose deaths each year.
Benzodiazepines, on the other hand, are medications commonly prescribed to treat panic and anxiety-related disorders. Benzodiazepines include medications such as Valium, Xanax, Klonopin, Ativan, and others. In recent years, the number of benzodiazepine prescriptions has skyrocketed, adding to the growing drug overdose concern. (2)
While benzodiazepines overdoses are rarely fatal, they greatly increase the risk of overdose deaths when combined with other central nervous system depressants, such as opioids or alcohol. (3)
Why are benzodiazepine and opioid combinations so dangerous?
Both benzodiazepines and opioids share one major side effect that makes them so inherently dangerous: respiratory depression. Respiratory depression refers to when breathing in the individual is slowed to the point of being dangerous. (4)
When benzodiazepines and opioids are taken in combination, they greatly increase the rate and duration of respiratory depression than either drug does by itself. (5) To make matters worse, the extremely long half-life of some benzodiazepines, such as Klonopin, means that the user may still be at risk of a fatal combination overdose over 24 hours after last taking the drug. (6)
So what do the numbers say?
Studies have routinely demonstrated the extreme danger of benzodiazepine and opioid combination deaths. In 2015, for example, 23% of those who died from opioid overdose also tested positive for a benzodiazepine. (7)
Another study found that those who were prescribed both opioids and benzodiazepines had an overdose death rate 10 times higher than opioids alone. (8) With both benzodiazepines and opioids being two of the most popular drugs of abuse, there is great cause for concern in overdose deaths.
This article is intended for those considering a new way of life, free of the pain of drug and alcohol addiction. For more information on recovery and anyone seeking help with addiction and substance abuse problems, please call True Recovery at (844) 744-8783 or visit us online.