Illicit Tranquilizers Caused The Six-Fold Increase In Fatal Overdoses During The Pandemic

Nikki Attkisson | Last Updated : August 28, 2021

Benzodiazepines like Valium, Xanax, and Ativan have been causing rises in overdose deaths in the United States due to illicit synthetic variations of prescription tranquilizers like Ativan and Xanax crafted in underground drug laboratories. Data from 32 states and the District of Columbia show an increase of more than sixfold (520%) in illicit benzo overdose deaths between the years 2019 and 2020.

Illicit Tranquilizers Caused The Six-Fold Increase In Fatal Overdoses

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the United States reported 44 double-digit increases in fatal overdoses of prescription benzodiazepines. As made by designers of these new drugs, they have structural similarities to approved benzodiazepines in their drug categories; however, the side effects and toxicities of these designer benzos are unknown. Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai’s Toxicology Research Core has been his life’s work.

Illicit Tranquilizers Caused The Six-Fold Increase In Fatal Overdoses During The Pandemic

Clonazolam, etizolam, and Flubromazolam – are benzodiazepines illegally manufactured and are believed to be more potent than prescription benzodiazepines, Manini says. In the treatment of anxiety disorders, benzos are commonly prescribed.

The spread of strong synthetic opioids like fentanyl in the U.S. is similar to that of fentanyl in the past, experts say. During the opioid epidemic, users moved from prescription opioids such as OxyContin and Vicodin to cheaper and stronger illicit opioid substitutes. In toxicology reports, benzodiazepines, a class of synthetic opioids, are outpacing synthetic benzodiazepines in pace, reports Partnership to End Addiction associate vice president Pat Aussem.

Ninety-three percent of deaths related to benzodiazepines also involve opioid drugs, based on data collected in the first six months of 2020. In two-thirds of cases, illicit fentanyl combined with benzos. It is possible that opioids and benzodiazepines will together cause you to stop breathing, said Dr. Leigh Vinocur, a physician with the American College of Emergency Physicians. Vinocur said that when you take the two together, it increases the chance of an overdose.

Research indicates that prescribing opioids alone can increase overdose risk by a factor of 10 compared with combining them. In addition, Manini points out that using both types of drugs together reduces the likelihood of a person recovering from an opioid overdose if they take medications that can reverse it.

He said: Naloxone’s effectiveness is going to be decreased by the presence of opioids and benzodiazepines simultaneously. The problem is major if the drug overdose cannot be reversed.

Approximately one-third of patients with a combined overdose who get naloxone fail to respond, according to a study where Manini was the senior author. In it, benzodiazepines from illicit sources were investigated. Doctors in the emergency room are sometimes unaware that benzodiazepines are the culprits of an overdose, Manini said.

In this cohort of patients, he said, we weren’t expecting to find benzodiazepines. There is no reversal agent for benzodiazepines, but naloxone is usually prescribed as a rule.” Unfortunately, people who mix opioids and benzodiazepines might not be aware they’ve consumed both, Aussem said. According to Dr. Wang, adding benzodiazepines to opioids can reduce costs for drug providers or enhance the motivational effects of opioids.

Continuing increases in drug overdose deaths in the United States may be due to the emotional turmoil caused by the evolving COVID-19 pandemic, explains Dr. Teresa Amato, the director of the Long Island Jewish Forest Hills Emergency Department. In Amato’s opinion, it might be the effect of the isolation, stress, and anxiety resulting from the outbreak itself.

Despite the increase in illicitly manufactured benzodiazepines, Aussem said the black market still plays a major role in overdoses and deaths from prescription tranquilizers. Study results appeared in the CDC’s weekly Mortality and Morbidity Report published on Aug. 27.

Nikki Attkisson

With over 15 years as a practicing journalist, Nikki Attkisson found herself at Powdersville Post now after working at several other publications. She is an award-winning journalist with an entrepreneurial spirit and worked as a journalist covering technology, innovation, environmental issues, politics, health etc. Nikki Attkisson has also worked on product development, content strategy, and editorial management for numerous media companies. She began her career at local news stations and worked as a reporter in national newspapers.

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