No sooner have we not solved one drug crisis than the next one rears its ugly head.
A group of doctors is warning that while all of our attention is directed toward opioids, another class of drugs is burning its own path of death and destruction across America.
This new report, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, tells how “most doctors” who prescribe benzodiazepines, or “benzos,” just don’t “know better.” Doctors appear to be clueless about how addictive and dangerous these meds are — and yet they’re giving them out like candy for conditions like insomnia or anxiety.
And it’s true. It doesn’t take very much to get a perfectly legit Rx for one of these drugs… and another… and yet another… and on and on.
Even if you can’t imagine that this applies to you, it’s easy as pie to innocently start taking a benzo. And that can lead you to the most frightening group of side effects imaginable, ones such as addiction, bone fracture, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease.
So, here’s what you need to know about how benzos can get you in their vise-like grip before you realize what’s happening.
A potentially deadly combo
When I went to visit my friend Elaine in the hospital, my heart sank.
Written on the blackboard in her room, along with her “goals of the day,” and the names of her doctors and nurses, was this: “Ativan, 2 mg, 3X a day.”
Elaine had just undergone successful surgery for a hip fracture, and she should be going to rehab soon. So, why in the world was she being given this benzo med, one that’s known to make you unsteady on your feet and more likely to fall?
The benzo Ativan, like a bunch of others in the same drug class (which includes Valium and Xanax), are hospital and nursing home favorites. They keep patients calm and help them sleep through the night. And there’s no doubt that Elaine will be discharged with an Rx for this risky benzo as well.
That’s just how it works. And that’s a big part of the reason that these horribly dangerous meds are now being called out by a group of prominent doctors as being behind the next drug crisis in the U.S..
Prescriptions for benzos have gone up close to a whopping 70 percent during the past two decades, and the trend shows no sign of slowing down.
The lead author of this new review, Dr. Anna Lembke from the Stanford University School of Medicine, says that people “overestimate the benefits and underestimate the risks” of these benzo meds – like they do with opiods.
Yes, a lot of drugs are dangerous, but benzos are in a special class of their own, especially where seniors are concerned. And as we’ve told you right here in eAlert, starting up on these meds – for any reason – can be one of the biggest mistakes you’ll ever make.
The Beers List, which provides guidelines for doctors about drugs that should never be given to seniors, notes that older adults are particularly “sensitive” to the effects of benzos, which include “cognitive impairment, delirium, falls, and fractures.”
And as I told you just a few weeks ago, benzos can up your risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 84 percent and double your risk of a car crash or falling and suffering a hip fracture (just what my friend needs, right?).
Another big risk can result when an opioid for pain and a benzo to relax are both prescribed (which is exactly what was written on the board of my friend’s hospital roommate, who was being given the opioid Percocet along with Ativan).
Unbelievably, that combo is also practically the same drug cocktail used to kill prisoners on death row. Pairing those kinds of meds can turn deadly in the blink of an eye — and when you think about it, we really have no idea how often that may be happening.
So, make sure you’re aware of what you’re being prescribed by asking your doctor or pharmacist what type of medication it is. Benzos go under a wide range of brand and generic names — for example, Xanax is alprazolam, Valium is diazepam, and Ativan is lorazepam.
That’s why you should never allow yourself or a loved one to fall into the benzo pit – one that might well turn out to be bottomless.
“Benzodiazepines: our other prescription drug epidemic” Anna Lembke, February 22, 2018, STAT, statnews.com