Although overshadowed by the growing opioid epidemic, the rates of benzodiazepine abuse in the United States have skyrocketed. Often, benzodiazepines are taken along with alcohol, opioids, or other depressants, causing a potentially lethal combination of substances. Many people look to the pharmaceutical industry to blame or the media and entertainment for introducing a younger generation to benzodiazepines. Regardless of the source, the increased rates of benzodiazepine abuse are an increasingly greater concern. According to James Nolan in a 2017 Vice article entitled We Need to Talk About Our Generation’s Xanax Problem, “Benzo abuse can be seen most starkly in the US, where over 5 percent of the adult population takes them, and where an estimated 10 to 25 percent of longtime users are dependent. This parallels with about 9,000 benzo-related deaths in 2015 and, since 2000, a 500 percent increase in the overdose death rate. Benzos are particularly lethal when combined with opioids, accounting for about 8,000 of these deaths, and in around a third of all fatal overdoses, some form of the drug is found.” The reason for the increased use of benzodiazepines with opioid is because benzodiazepines potentiate the effects of other depressants. Benzodiazepines are capable of greatly increasing the effects of other drugs, but the combination also greatly increases the potential for overdose. Maia Szalavitz, in 2018 Vice article entitled The Mystery of the Terrifying Xanax Resurgence in America, explains, “As with opioids, a great deal of the harm associated with benzos comes when they are combined with other drugs. Opioids, alcohol, and benzodiazepines are exponentially riskier when taken together because their effects in slowing breathing are synergistic, not simply cumulative. Indeed, research has suggested that as many as 90 percent of benzodiazepine-associated deaths also involved an opioid and about 80 percent of benzo recreational use was carried out in concert with other substances.” Combining benzodiazepines with opioids or alcohol not only increases the risk of overdose but can also worsen addiction and make recovery more difficult. Benzodiazepines are highly addictive and can rapidly cause tolerance and withdrawal. When a person attempts to detoxify from benzodiazepines, they require medical supervision as symptoms can include lethal grand mal seizures.
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