Prescription pain pills are deadly when abused – that is not news – but the abuse of prescription opiates can also increase the lethal potential of benzodiazepines. This class of drugs includes Xanax and Valium, and are often used in connection with heroin or prescription opiates like Percocet or Vicodin.
According to the Ohio Department of Health, “benzos” were named on 300 death certificates in 2010. That does not imply that benzodiazepines killed 300 Ohioans in 2010, but it was a contributing factor in those deaths. Fatal overdoses in Ohio involving opiates, including heroin, increased from 198 in 2000 to 979 in 2010. Prescription opiates were the leading cause in those deaths, cementing the reality that prescription pain pill abuse is an epidemic in Ohio and across the United States.
“The population that is specifically abusing opiates, it’s not an infrequent thing for them to be using benzodiazepines,” said Orman Hall, the director of the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services.
Benzodiazepines simply amplify euphoric feelings, just like those from the prescription pain pills. Both classes of drugs are sedatives, so there is a heightened risk for people who abuse the two classes of drugs in combination to just slip into unconsciousness and die.
“In general, people who are going to be on long-term opiate therapy, such as for chronic severe pain disorder, the use of benzodiazepines along with (opiates) carries significant risk. Most physicians who are experienced with addiction or pain management would find the combination of the two risky at best and would be strongly dissuaded,” said Dr. Richard Whitney, a physician who specializes in addiction.