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Study Examines Surge in Deaths from Prescription Sedatives

ajphaSedatives are a common medication prescribed by doctors to treat anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia and seizures. Benzodiazepines are among the most widely used sedatives on the market. They also happen to be one of the most abused types of prescription drugs behind painkillers.

A new study appearing in the American Journal of Public Health tracked the increase in the use of benzodiazepines and the subsequent rise in fatalities associated with the drugs between 1996 and 2013. The findings revealed that the number of overdose deaths from benzos increased more than five times during that period, while the number of people who filled prescriptions for the rugs rose by 67%. The number of pills given to each patient doubled during that time.

“Benzodiazepines are risky drugs; that’s the bottom line,” says Dr. Larissa Loukianova, medical director of Mayo Clinic’s Comprehensive Pain Rehabilitation Center. “Both benzodiazepines and opiates are brain depressants. Biological interactions between benzodiazepines and opiates can lead to respiratory failure. Patients taking both benzodiazepines and opioids have a 15-fold increase in risk of death, compared with those who are not taking those medications.”

The most common names of benzodiazepines include Xanax, Klonopin, Ativan and Valium. These are also among the most heavily abused prescription drugs on the market. Similar to doctors treating chronic pain who are seeking for non-narcotic treatments, physicians would be doing many of their patients a favor by seeking alternative treatments to issues where they would have previously prescribed a sedative. They might just help save their life.