Psychopharmacology

Opioid Epidemic: FDA Warns About Mixing With Benzodiazepines

opioids-ban-with-benzodiazepines
Image via: Ron Chapple/Thinkstock

Mixing certain sedatives with opioid painkillers could increase the risk of coma or death, the U.S. Federal and Drug Administration warns.

Just when you thought the opioid epidemic couldn’t get any worse, U.S. health officials are now issuing dire warnings for patients who mix the painkiller drugs with certain sedatives, or tranquilizers, including the highly-prescribed benzodiazepines.

More than 389 drug products will soon be receiving a facelift and a “boxed warning” which aims at informing users of its lethal effects when combined with certain sedative drugs, CBS News reported.

According to the FDA, products carrying the new boxed warnings includes opioid drugs such as codeine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone. Additionally, sedatives, with the potential to cause a deadly interaction with the opioid painkillers, will also carry the same boxed warnings; this includes benzodiazepines like Xanax, Valium, Ativan, and Klonopin, which act as central nervous system depressants.

Benzodiazepines, like other sedatives, is mainly prescribed to treat anxiety and insomnia. This drug class works by increasing the neurotransmitter GABA, which slows down the central nervous system, inducing excess drowsiness and sleepiness. However, when used in conjunction with opioids, it can increase the risk of respiratory depression, coma or even death.

“After an extensive review of the latest scientific evidence, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced today that it is requiring class-wide changes to drug labeling, including patient information, to help inform health care providers and patients of the serious risks associated with the combined use of certain opioid medications and a class of central nervous system (CNS) depressant drugs called benzodiazepines,” the FDA wrote.

The move comes after what health officials are calling a ‘significant rise’ in prescriptions by general physicians, causing increased accidental fatal overdoses.

Initially, the opioid panic began in 2014 when a study published by the National Institutes of Health, led by Dr. Brian Site, alarmed health professionals after it found that opioid prescriptions had increased by over 104% just in the past decade.

Although Site’s study was initiated to halt opioid prescriptions, no luck resulted from it as physicians refused to hang their lab coats at the idea that opioids were deadly enough.

However, it wasn’t until the death of music megastar Prince, when the drug crisis received the attention of the public. In April 2016, Prince Rogers Nelson, 57, was found unresponsive in an elevator at his Minnesota home— it was later determined that his cause of death was an accidental opioid overdose, according to an autopsy report.

Prince’s death is just one of many reminders of how dangerous opioid drugs are. The FDA, along with other health organizations, are hard at work to help lower opioid overdoses; they gave the following statement on fixing the epidemic.

“Working with the health care community and federal and state partners to help reduce opioid misuse and abuse and improve appropriate opioid prescribing, while ensuring that patients in pain continue to have appropriate access to opioid analgesics, is a top priority for the FDA and part of HHS’ targeted approach focused on prevention, treatment, and intervention. The agency is committed to continuing to monitor these products and take further actions as needed.”

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