Benzodiazepine drugs – usually called just benzos – are mostly psychotropic prescription drugs used to alleviate the worst symptoms of anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Valium and Xanax are probably the two “household” names you recognize. But beyond those two drugs, not much is said about benzos, which is unusual since there is currently a dangerous benzo addiction and overdose epidemic in America.
While most people are rightfully concerned about the opioid epidemic, the benzo epidemic requires just as much attention. According to research conducted by medical groups – like the New England Journal of Medicine – benzo prescriptions increased 67% from 1996 to 2013, up to nearly 14 million prescriptions being filled in the country each year.
The greatest concern regarding the benzo epidemic is its continual growth. Opioid prescriptions have decreased noticeably since 2012 when its own epidemic reached a high point. Benzos are being linked to more overdoses – both fatal and nonfatal due to emergency medical intervention – each year, with the risk of an overdose being heightened dramatically if the user also uses opioids.
Medical professionals are also concerned with how simple it is for some people to receive a benzo drug. There are even reports of less-than-reputable websites shipping out benzos for “research,” allowing them to sidestep legal barriers to block drug trafficking. Taking only a few milligrams of these “research” benzos can be enough to cause a fatal overdose in an adult.
(STAT News recently published a full article discussing the ongoing benzo drug epidemic, which you can read by clicking here.)
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Dr. Greg Gale has been practicing and providing leadership in the field of psychiatry, substance use, and integrated care in the Phoenix metropolitan area for over 11 years. He joins us from his role as a national medical director overseeing behavioral health, substance use, and integrated care services for Humana Behavioral Health. Previously, he was CMO and VP of Clinical Services at Partners in Recovery, a not-for-profit behavioral health and substance use service organization, which operates five clinics throughout Maricopa County.