Anti-Anxiety Drugs Could be a Hidden Epidemic in the Making

As someone who struggles with anxiety, I can understand the desire to find something that can help protect yourself from haunting feelings of dread that cripple your peace of mind. Anxiety is a complicated condition that can creep in from the most unexpected places, and people experience it in many different ways. While some may think it’s based in fear or weakness, the reality is far more complex. Those people may say all you need to overcome anxiety is a more grounded and positive outlook. But the truth for most people with an anxiety disorder is that battling anxiety goes a lot deeper than promoting optimism. Especially when your condition convinces you that all levity is just you lying to yourself. Sometimes, you need a little outside help, and anti-anxiety drugs can be very useful when a physician and an individual decide on the right route to take.

However, anti-anxiety medications can also be dangerous. These anti-anxiety drugs may not be in the spotlight the way opioids are, they are commonly abused, extremely addictive and can be just as lethal.

With recent reports showing a rise in deaths associated with anti-anxiety medications, some experts are saying there is a hidden epidemic being overshadowed by the opioid crisis.

ANTI-ANXIETY DRUGS UNDERESTIMATED
It is true that opioids are doing massive damage all across the country, but that doesn’t mean the death rates due to anti-anxiety drugs should be ignored. While focusing on prescription opioids, heroin and synthetic opioids is important, we should also keep in mind the other dangerous medications out there.

The usual suspects are benzodiazepines, which include drugs like:

  • Valium
  • Klonopin
  • Librium
  • Ativan

While these anti-anxiety drugs may be useful in helping some people, they still carry their risks, which can be devastating and even lethal.

According to the director of the Scripps Mercy Hospital emergency department Dr. Roneet Lev, benzodiazepines are responsible for more drug deaths in San Diego County than people may expect. She says,

“THAT COMES FROM PEOPLE WHO COME INTO OUR TRAUMA CENTER FROM CAR ACCIDENTS BECAUSE THEY’RE ON BENZODIAZEPINES, PEOPLE WHO COME IN BECAUSE THEY’RE FALLING DOWN BECAUSE THAT AFFECTS THEIR BALANCE AND COORDINATION ON BENZODIAZEPINES,”
“WE’VE SEEN TERRIBLE WITHDRAWALS, WHEN THEY’RE USED TO HAVING IT, WITH SEIZURES, THAT END UP IN THE ICU.”
And it isn’t just people who are buying these drugs off the street. Concerning drug-related deaths by legal prescriptions, benzodiazepines are not as far behind opioids as people may think. Dr. Lev adds that while oxycodone is the number one prescribed drug associated with death, hydrocodone is second, and benzodiazepine is in third place.

But San Diego County is definitely not the only area experiencing a surge in benzodiazepine-related deaths. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), deaths involving these anti-anxiety drugs have more than quadrupled between 2002 and 2015.

Something that does make these medications even more treacherous is when they are mixed with opioids.