FDA Finds Benzos are Addictive
Recently, the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has taken a closer look at Benzodiazepine drugs, or “Benzos” for short. What they found is that these drugs are more addictive than originally thought. The findings have led the FDA to require makers of Benzos to include the risks for addiction and abuse on the packaging.
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What Are Benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines are considered minor tranquilizers, as they enhance the effects of the neurotransmitter, GABA, at its receptors. This results in properties that can be described as hypnotic, anticonvulsant, and sedative. Benzos are commonly used to treat conditions such as anxiety, muscle spasms, insomnia, alcohol withdrawal, seizures, and more.
Some common brand names are Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, and Ativan. While these drugs are considered safer than barbiturates, Benzos are only recommended for short term use, such as two or four-week periods.
Benzos are categorized by how fast they act inside the body. They come in all forms – short, long-lasting, and intermediary. The form given depends on what the patient needs the prescription for. Shorter acting Benzos are great for helping treat insomnia, where longer-lasting forms are better for use as anti-anxiety drugs.
These drugs can become dangerous when taken in large doses because they can lead to deep unconsciousness. This risk is lowered when Benzos are taken alone. However, when they are mixed with other drugs such as Opioids and alcohol, the risk of overdose and fatality increase further.
How Common Are Benzodiazepine Prescriptions?
These medications have been around for decades, and they are widely used. In fact, the FDA has estimated that somewhere around 92 million prescriptions for Benzodiazepine drugs were dispensed from pharmacies in 2019 alone. The most common medications where alprazolam with 38% of all scripts, clonazepam at 24%, and lorazepam at 20%. You may know these medications by Xanax, Klonopin, and Ativan, respectively.
They also found that in 2018, nearly half of all patients who received prescriptions for Benzos received them for a period of two months, and sometimes even longer. Though these drugs work great for treating insomnia and anxiety, they are not a long-term solution. Most doctors and health professionals recommend them in short-term settings in terms of weeks, not months.
The FDA’s New Findings and Warnings
So, you may be thinking, “Are Benzos that addictive?”. The short answer is YES! Stephen M. Hahn, the Commissioner of the FDA, acknowledged that even though Benzos are important for many people, they are commonly misused and abused. Furthermore, they are often used in combination with other substances such as alcohol, opioids, and illicit drugs.
This is the reason the FDA is requiring new warnings to be placed on packaging. They hope the improved labeling will help not only patients, but also health care professionals to better understand Benzos. It’s important that everyone understands how to benefit from treatment with these drugs, without facing the increased risk of dependence, abuse, addiction, and misuse.
However, the FDA is not stopping with the new box warnings. They are also adding changes to the Drug Abuse and Dependence, Warning and Precautions, and Patient Counseling sections of the information provided with all benzodiazepine medications. Lastly, the FDA is requiring patient Medication Guides to also be updated. The revisions will work to educate caregivers and patients about the risks associated with addiction to Benzos.
Addiction to Benzodiazepines
Addiction to benzodiazepines can occur in a short amount of time. The truth is most people don’t realize that physical dependence can begin after taking the medications regularly for a few days to weeks. The longer a person has an addiction to these medications, the higher the risk of developing symptoms of withdrawal when the pills are finally stopped. In extreme cases, reducing the dosage or stopping the drugs too quickly can result in reactions such as seizures, and can also be life-threatening in some situations.
Dr. Bechoy Abdelmalak is a psychiatrist who works in a New York City dependency clinic. He explained that when a person begins taking these medications the “response is very positive”, and this is what makes it hard for patients to not take them. He continued on to explain that some people take these medications for years, and such chronic use can increase the chances of side effects, especially in older adults.
Hence, patients who are addicted to these types of anti-anxiety drugs, should speak with their health care provider to develop a plan to stop use. Doing so on your own is never recommended, even after you’ve been taking them for just a few short weeks.
So, What Prompted the FDA’s Response?
The FDA has received much information on adverse cases. They ultimately found that Benzos are being prescribed in the U.S. for longer than recommended, which is causing the drugs to be misused and abused. Hence, between people taking them for long periods of time, mixing them with other dangerous substances, and facing severe withdrawal symptoms, the FDA found it imperative to educate more people on these risks.
Only time will tell if the increased warning labels are enough to curb the use and addiction of benzodiazepines. While these medications are effective, they are one of the easiest class of medications to become addicted to. If you or someone you know is addicted to benzodiazepines, call us today – we can help!