As more and more Americans either die or transition to heroin as a result of opioid addiction, an increasing amount of attention and institutional resources are being directed toward prevention and treatment. This infusion of help could not come at a more urgent time, as opioid addiction continues to be among the most dominant public health threats facing the United States. There is also, however, another class of commonly abused prescriptions that, on a global scale, is a leading cause of overdose from recreational drug use: benzodiazepines. These drugs are powerful sedatives commonly used to treat sleep disorders and anxiety-related mental illness.
Although Americans seem to prefer opioids more than two to one against benzos, the rest of the world seems to have a difference of opinion. Xanax, one of the most common brand-name benzos, is also one of the most commonly abused prescriptions in the world. Benzos are also gaining more and more ground in the United States. In 2013, these drugs were involved in approximately 30 percent of all prescription drug-related deaths. Despite researchers and clinicians’ hopes that benzo abuse was on the decline, a recent study indicates the very opposite reality. Some other commonly abused benzos include Klonopin, Ativan and Valium.
Benzos are particularly dangerous when mixed with alcohol, and have been involved in a number of high-profile deaths, including Whitney Houston, although Xanax, alone, did not kill her. These drugs slow the heart rate and can significantly impair breathing when taken in excess. Other physical and psychological dangers of benzos include, but are not limited to:
- Cognitive impairment
- Loss of mobility
- Increased anxiety
- Restlessness and trouble sleeping
- Respiratory problems
Those who are taking benzos and have started to experience these effects may be going through withdrawal and should contact their prescribing physician straight away.
Benzo use in general has increased nearly 40 percent from 1996 to 2013. These drugs are highly addictive and can intensify the very conditions they are meant to treat in a clinical context. While different regions of the country remain more vulnerable to benzos than others, this is a bona fide public health issue occurring right alongside, and sometimes in conjunction with, prescription opioids and heroin. It’s equally worth noting that this is a problem affecting every age group in America, from curious adolescents to vulnerable senior citizens. Benzos represent one more element of a complex and multilateral crisis that is claiming more and more Americans each day.