Side Effects

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The Hidden Dangers of Benzodiazepines

What Americans don’t know about widely prescribed drugs

Foundations Recovery Network, one of the nation’s leading organizations for treating a dual diagnosis of substance addiction and mental health disorders, recently put together an infographic on the risks associated with benzodiazepine abuse. Shared below with their permission, it summarizes data both startling and shocking from sources such as the British Medical Journal, Pain Medicine News, and SAMHSA, the government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

"While benzodiazepines have been prescribed for decades to treat anxiety and seizure disorders,” a foundation representative tells me, the “possible threat of overusing them is real and with that comes dependency, overdose and the potentiality of death.”

Do American doctors and patients know, for example, that since 2010, there have been 6,507 U.S. drug overdose deaths involving benzodiazepines? That in 2010 alone, 124,902 Americans were rushed to the E.R. just because of Xanax? And that, one year later, addiction to the same drug resulted in 39,408 confiscations by law authorities? If they didn’t know this, they should. 49 million prescriptions for Xanax were filled in the U.S. in 2011 alone.

The infographic summarizes common side effects and contraindications with benzodiazepine use; key statistics related to the dangers of abuse; and symptoms of overdose. It also lists the number of related ER visits for each type of benzo, and the number of confiscations by law enforcement. In total, Americans filled 127 million prescriptions for these drugs in 2011. The figures are eye-opening, deeply worrying, and clearly demand both attention and action.

Responsibility dictates that I end on a strong note of caution. Patients concerned about the drugs' adverse effects should NOT terminate their treatment abruptly, but should instead taper their dose carefully and very gradually, over a course of several months, to ensure their own safety. Professor Heather Ashton, a British psychiatrist who runs a renowned clinic on benzo withdrawal, supplies important safety information about recommended tapering here.

christopherlane.org Follow me at @christophlane

Related links:

"The Tranquilizer Trap": Psychology Today (October 3, 2012).

Brain Damage from Benzodiazepines: The Troubling Facts, Risks, and History of Minor Tranquilizers”: Psychology Today (November 18, 2010).

Pharmaceutical Scandal in Britain Sheds Disturbing New Light on Benzodiazepines”: Psychology Today (November 13, 2010).

"Benzodiazepines: How They Work and How to Withdraw" (The Ashton Manual).

Foundations Recovery Network

Christopher Lane, Ph.D., teaches literature and intellectual history at Northwestern University and is the author of Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness. more...

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