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30 June
Combining opioids with antianxiety medicines spike incidents of overdose
By Rachael

Combining opioids with antianxiety medicines spike incidents of overdose

Based on a number of reviews and studies, many medical practitioners and experts have been warning of the dangerous repercussions of combining different types of drugs, such as sleeping medicines or antianxiety medications with prescription opioids. Of the several side effects of mixing two or more types of drugs, there is a high risk of overdose and death. In fact, chronic polysubstance abuse can also affect both mental and physical health of the users. People tend to indulge in polysubstance abuse to experience an altogether different level of high. Despite being unintentional in nature, polysubstance abuse causes a number of life-threatening problems.

A study conducted by Dr. Eric Sun of Stanford University and published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), found that opioid overdoses were more common among patients who also had prescriptions for antianxiety drugs. The research was based on the information collected from over 300,000 privately insured patients between 2001 and 2013 and over the course of 12 years. As the prescription of both types of medications increased, the number of overdose cases due to the concomitant use of the drugs also spiked.

FDA tries averting risks of polysubstance abuse via warning labels

There are severe risks associated with the combined use of prescription opioid analgesics, opioid-containing cough products and benzodiazepines. Some of the symptoms due to the combined use of these drugs include unusual lightheadedness or dizziness, drowsiness or extreme sleepiness, suppressed breathing, coma and even death. Both opioids and benzodiazepines affect the central nervous system (CNS) that controls the major functions of the body and brain.

On the one hand, the side effects of opioid, a class of potent prescription medicines that provide relief from pain, include drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, constipation, and slowed or suppressed breathing. On the other hand, abuse of benzodiazepines, a class of prescription drugs used for treating anxiety, seizures (convulsions), insomnia, etc., causes drowsiness, dizziness, weakness and physical dependence.

The truth about the deadly combination of painkillers and antianxiety medicines has been known for quite some time now. In 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) enforced useful changes in the labels of drugs sold in pharmacies and in the information material for patients by introducing “black box warnings” on the packaging of nearly 400 products.

These warnings were a powerful education tool to keep health care providers and patients well informed about the risks associated with combining medications for pain and anxiety. The FDA based its decision to implement the warnings for the benefit of the public based on two studies.

From these two studies, it was found that between 2002 and 2014, the number of opioid analgesics dispensed to patients increased by 8 percent, i.e., from 75 million to 81 million while the number of benzodiazepines dispensed to patients increased by 31 percent, i.e. from 23 million to 30 million. In 2014, the number of patients being concurrently prescribed both the opioids and benzodiazepine increased by 41 percent, i.e., 2.5 million users more compared to 2002.

Moreover, the rate of emergency department (ED) visits involving the nonmedical use of both opioid analgesics and benzodiazepines increased at an alarming rate from 11 to 34.2 per 100,000 population. At the same time, drug overdose deaths resulting from the concurrent use of these prescription drugs increased from 0.6 to 1.7 per 100,000 population.

Recovery road map

People should avoid using two drugs concurrently without the supervision of a doctor. Opioids and benzodiazepines are just one of the many fatal combinations. Of the many combinations, drinking alcohol along with a dose of prescribed medication is often fraught with risks.

Therefore, the need of the hour is to spread awareness on polysubstance abuse. It is always advisable to consult a pharmacist and medical expert on such matters. A person should avoid using a drug that has been prescribed to someone else, irrespective of the similarities in their symptoms. Left over prescription drugs should be emptied out along with the trash.

If you or your loved one is suffering from prescription drug abuse, contact the Arizona Prescription Abuse Helpline to find the finest prescription drug abuse treatment clinic in Arizona. Call us at our 24/7 helpline number 866-692-3563 or chat with our experts to access more information on the best prescription drug abuse treatment centers in Arizona.


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