• Opioid crisis looms, shocking number of drug overdoses attributed to another drug

    By: Winnie Wright

    Updated:

    MEMPHIS, Tenn. - As the opioid epidemic looms on, another drug has been blamed for a shocking number of overdose deaths. 

    Benzodiazepines, or benzos as they are commonly referred to, are used to treat anxiety but are often misused. 

    From 1999-2016, the number of fatal overdoses involving benzos has quadrupled. Now, experts are calling on doctors, amongst others, to turn this trend around.

    “Some estimates are showing that almost 50% of all drug overdose deaths in the United States involve a benzodiazepine,” said Dr. Ted Bender, CEO of Turning Point, inside the Southaven facility. 

    He has been treating addicts for years, which is why he said the recent findings of the Journal of The American Medical Association study troubled him. 

    Those patients will never get a chance at treatment.


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    Dr. Bender said a significant number of patients use benzos with opioids, a deadly combination. “I think this is just as important as the opioid problem we are having because so often the drug overdose deaths we are seeing are a combination of drugs. Benzodiazepines are involved in over half of them.”

    Tyler Haney said he has tried it all.

    “At one point I was literally floating above my bed and I saw lights all around the room. I knew I was fighting for my life right there,” the patient told us Saturday. He is currently in treatment after nearly dying of a drug overdose two weeks ago.

    Haney got his drugs off the internet.

    “It’s so easy. The dark web: it sounds tricky, but it’s like eBay,” Haney said of the ease. “You go to these websites and you can order anything in the world. Any drug you want is at the palm of your hands. I could have anything I wanted in my mailbox in three days.”

    Those drugs come with a risk of being cut with or made to look like something else, which is what nearly killed Haney.

    While benzos are readily available online and on the street, the JAMA study found the number of prescriptions for benzos has quadrupled since 2003.

    Many patients take prescriptions much longer than the recommended 8-10 weeks.

    “The major increase of benzos has not been coming from psychiatrists, it has been coming from primary care physicians,” Dr. Bender explained. 

    “And the increase has really been in concert with chronic pain disorders. So we are going to need much stronger prescription guidelines for primary care doctors, continued education for doctors and patients, and I think we are going to have to increase our regulatory efforts.”

    Dr. Bender said benzos should be given the same strict protocols as opioids. If you or someone you know relies on the drug – the same thing applies. 

    Be sure to follow prescription guidelines and keep benzos away from children.

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