Benzodiazepines might be a ‘hidden element’ of the US’ overdose epidemic — and doctor visits for prescriptions are increasing
(CNN)Doctors have been increasingly prescribing benzodiazepines, also known as “benzos,” in recent years. Looking at data from 2014 to 2016, new research found this class of central nervous system depressants was prescribed at about 65.9 million office-based doctor visits. That’s a rate of 27 annual visits per 100 adults.
The research, which analyzed data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, was published on Friday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Benzodiazepines such as alprazolam, diazepam and lorazepam can be helpful when taken on a short-term basis. Doctors often prescribe them to relieve acute anxiety, agitation or to help someone sleep. Taken over the long term, they can become addictive. In older adults, the drugs have been shown to increase the risk of falls, cloud judgment and impair memory. There is an increased risk of hospitalization and death for people who take benzos, particularly if they are taken with an opioid.
Despite the risks, among the doctor visits at which benzodiazepines were prescribed, approximately one-third involved an overlapping opioid prescription at a rate of 10 annual visits per 100 adults from 2014 to 2016. That prescription combination increased from 0.5% of doctor visits in 2003 to 2% in 2015.
Texas lawmakers last month gave final approval to a bill that will limit opioid prescriptions for acute pain to a 10-day supply, one of several measures passed this session aimed at tackling the state’s opioid overdose crisis.
House Bill 2174 now goes to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk to be signed into law. He has until June 16 to do so or otherwise veto it.
The legislation, authored by Rep. John Zerwas, R-Katy, also requires that all opioid prescriptions be sent to pharmacies electronically to cut down on the number of fraudulent written prescriptions.
Zerwas said the two measures would help address prescription opioid misuse in Texas. He said the less time people are on the medication, the less likely they are to become addicted. The legislation also seeks to reduce the amount of leftover medication, which could be taken by someone else or diverted for illegal use, he said.
Reports of “serious harm” in patients dependent on opioid painkillers who suddenly stop taking the medication, or rapidly decrease the dose, have prompted a drug safety communicationissued today by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Harms from abruptly stopping opioids or rapidly decreasing the dose include “serious withdrawal symptoms, uncontrolled pain, psychological distress, and suicide,” the FDA said.
While the FDA continues to track this “safety concern,” the agency is requiring changes to the prescribing label for these medicines that are intended for use in the outpatient setting. These changes are designed to promote safe tapering or discontinuing of opioids in patients who are physically dependent on the medication.
“Dependence isn’t addiction, and that is continually left out of the discussion and the policies being made,” said disability advocate Maelee Johnson.
Hardly a day goes by when the discussion of opioids and their misuse is not on the front page of local or national newspapers. However, the flipside of the issue, pain management, is barely, if ever, centered in the conversation.
This came up most recently with Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, who seeks to advance a bill he previously introduced called the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act 2.0, which would, among other things, establish a three-day limit for opioid prescriptions.
This lack of focus ondisabled and chronically ill patients has inadvertently pitted doctors against their own patients, who are framed as going down the rabbit hole of dependency following a sprained ankle or routine dental surgery. But this overly simplistic framing erases people with long-term disabilities and chronic health conditions who are struggling to live their lives while being punished for using the best tools we have available to enable their full participation in society.
People across the country who are dealing with serious acute and chronic pain issues are becoming increasingly alarmed and confused about whether their opioid prescriptions will remain available.
If you are someone who’s looking at a major surgery, such as spinal fusion or a total knee replacement and resulting acute pain; are dealing with chronic pain, from conditions such as Crohn’s disease or rheumatoid arthritis; or are in palliative care after battling cancer, you should know there’s a lot of misinformation out there.
Unfortunately, doctors, pharmacists and patients can fall victim to faulty reporting and make decisions based on what they believe are facts but are half-truths instead. That’s why we’re going to set out the current information, so you know — or can find out — where you really stand.
The overdose problem – and a rise in suicides, another byproduct of the drug epidemic — is so pervasive it’s being blamed for a drop in U.S. life expectancy.
The crisis has led to a rush of public health and law enforcement initiatives at all levels of government. The federal government has vowed to cut prescription opioids by a third. More than 30 states have passed some type of legislation aimed at attacking the opioid epidemic.
“Defeating this epidemic will require the commitment of every state, local, and federal agency,” President Donald Trump said in a March speech in New Hampshire. “Failure is not an option. Addiction is not our future. We will liberate our country from this crisis.”
House lawmakers on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed legislation expanding veterans’ access to private care at taxpayer expense, a campaign promise of President Donald Trump, and adding more money to the “Choice program” weeks before VA officials said it could run out of money.
The $51 billion plan that passed 347-70 Wednesday includes $5.2 billion for the VA Choice program that funds private care. VA officials have warned that the program could run out of money as early as the end of the month, disrupting care for patients.