With doctors prescribing benzodiazepines and opioids together, the number of patients taking both drugs are apparently increasing. There are already cautions against using them together, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made further warnings on Wednesday. Benzodiazepines like Valium and Xanax are prescribed for seizures, insomnia, and anxiety while opioids are used for pain.
The New York Times reported that from 2002 to 2014, patients prescribed to use the drugs rose by 41 percent, equivalent to 2.5 million people. With these drugs, the central nervous system is depressed. The combination can lead to extreme sleepiness; but more than that, it can also cause breathing problems, coma, and even death. According to FDA, the overdose death rate involving the drugs increased by three times from 2004 to 2011, and most number of deaths in 2011 involved a benzodiazepine.
According to CBC News, U.S. FDA plans to add boxed warnings to 400 medications specifically benzodiazepines, opoid painkillers, and cough medicines containing opoid. This is to make sure that people would understand more about the medications they are taking and become more aware of the danger of taking both drugs.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Jane Philpott believes that the bill by Sen. Vern White, former police chief, is an indication that the government can respond quickly to make unauthorized import and export of the aforementioned chemicals illegal. In British Columbia, International Overdose Awareness Day is used by a joint task force that examines the drug overdose crisis to highlight the province’s steps and ways to deal with opioid overdoses.
As of writing, the plan to have new labels is sparking a debate among experts. While health officials believe that the new labels can raise awareness among consumers, executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing Dr. Andrew Kolodny thinks that warnings don’t have much impact. According to him, limiting how companies market opioids would be more effective.
With FDA’s further warnings about combined benzodiazepines and opioids, it is clear that tougher actions should be made. The public, especially the consumers of these drugs, is in dire need of better awareness and understanding of these chemicals.