Benzodiazepines and Pain Meds Mean a Rise in Hospital Admissions
I know from reading (and common sense would tell you) that dual addictions and dual diagnoses are harder to treat than if someone has only one. And if one addiction or mental health diagnosis alone is devastating for a family member or the abuser himself, imagine the impact of two. And now, SAMHSA has found that hospital admissions – as well as treatment centers – are seeing an increase in admissions by patients using benzodiazepines and pain relievers in combination. (The 12/28 article on Medscape is here, but you need a subscription to access it.)
The article also mentioned that almost half of these abusers seeking treatment may be using “benzos” to self-medicate their mental health disorder (anxiety, for example). This is complicated for a layperson.
Here’s a primer on benzodiazepines, courtesy of Livestrong. They’re a class of drug used to treat insomnia and anxiety and act on the Gamma receptor, the same one that alcohol acts on, which is why they’re addictive.
Also, short-acting benzos, for insomnia, are Restoril, Halcion, ProSom and Dalmone. Another, used to treat anxiety and amnesia, and for sedation, is Versed. This is used in critical care settings and before anesthesia. Long-acting benzos, also used to treat insomnia when it’s accompanied by daytime anxiety, are Xanax, Valium, and Librium, to name a few. One other long-acting drug in this class — illegal in the U.S. — is Rohypnol, the “date rape” drug. Rohypnol is also called “roofies,” “rophies,” and “roach.”
The extent of the problem is staggering, according to the Medscape article. Admissions for people abusing substances other than benzos and narcotic pain meds together decreased 10 % for the decade from 2000 to 2010. But when it comes to that particular combination, admissions increased 500%. Most admissions occurred in the south U.S., and the average age of the user was 31.
Also troubling is the fact that benzos can “enhance or boost the effects of…narcotic pain relievers, including oxycodone.” That’s the Medscape writer quoting the report that contained the statistics. In addition, the article notes that the withdrawal from this drug use is severe.
As a fitting end to the article, a SAMHSA administrator does her part to alert readers – especially the treatment community – what a huge public health issue this drug combo is. She also suggests that treatment centers need to develop strategies because the withdrawal is so severe. The director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy supports that message and reminds people of the importance of prevention as well. If only prevention worked better. If only, if only.
Is this the next drug epidemic? If you go by the statistics, it seems it’s here. It would be interesting to hear from people in recovery about their personal experiences with these drugs, and especially the withdrawal. Could that at least be somewhat of a deterrent for others? However, another problem is that this combination makes users especially treatment-resistant.