Opioid / Benzodiazepines Continue to Be Prescribed Even as Overdose Deaths Climb

Despite urgent and sustained warnings, benzodiazepines continue to be prescribed to patients who are also taking opioids – causing overdose deaths to climb. Prescriptions for the following anti-anxiety medications have grown dramatically over the past decade, keeping pace with the growth of opioid prescriptions.

Benzodiazepines include medications such as –

  • Xanax (alprazolam)
  • Ativan (lorazepam)
  • Klonopin (clonazepam)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data from 2014 show that about 30 percent of opioid overdoses also involved benzodiazepines. A study in the June issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that older patients prescribed both benzodiazepines and opioids were five times more likely to overdose in the three months after they began to use the drugs, compared with those who were prescribed only opioids.

A recent analysis found that around 25 percent of people on long-term opioids in Idaho were also taking benzodiazepines or depressants — a risky combination. Surprisingly, 56 percent of these people who were taking opioids and benzodiazepines together were prescribed both medications by the same physician.

These trends highlight the need for prescribers to be increasingly aware of the significant risks that are involved by co-prescribing opioids and benzodiazepines.