New Prescribing Guidelines to Combat Opioid & Benzo Overdose Deaths in Pennsylvania

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Pennsylvania Issues Prescribing Guidelines in Effort to Curb Opioid, Benzo Overdose Deaths

Opioids and benzodiazepines are two of the most commonly prescribed types of medications in the United States. They are also two of the most dangerous, especially when a person is taking a medication from each category at the same time. To curb the risk of abuse, overdose, and death, the state of Pennsylvania recently issued a set of 14 guidelinesfor doctors, dentists, and other healthcare providers who are authorized to prescribe these drugs.

“These new guidelines mark another step in the fight against the opioid epidemic,” Pennsylvania Secretary of Drug and Alcohol Programs Gary Tennis said in the Dec. 8, 2016 news release that announced the recommendations. “Any combination of medications – but particularly benzodiazepines – is particularly dangerous when used with opioids. We must take responsible steps, such as providing these guidelines, to prevent more overdoses.”

About the Drugs

Benzodiazepines, which are commonly referred to as benzos, have sedative effects and are often prescribed to treat symptoms related to anxiety and panic. Popular brand-name prescription medications that contain benzos include Valium (which contains the benzodiazepine diazepam), Xanax (which contains alprazolam), and Ativan (which contains lorazepam).

Opioids are typically prescribed to treat individuals who have been suffering from moderate to severe physical pain. Commonly prescribed painkillers that contain opioids include OxyContin (which contains the opioid oxycodone) and Vicodin (which contains hydrocodone).

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has reported that from 2002 to 2015, the annual number of overdose deaths in the United States that involved benzodiazepines increased by about 430 percent. The annual number of overdose deaths that involved a prescription opioid increased by about 190 percent between 2002 and 2011, then leveled off for the next four years, the NIDA reported.

The document that contains Pennsylvania’s new guidelines for prescribing benzodiazepines also includes the following statistics about the scope of the problem:

  • Pennsylvania averages 46 prescriptions for benzodiazepines per 100 adults; only 11 states report a higher frequency of benzodiazepine prescriptions than Pennsylvania.
  • From 1996 to 2013, overdose deaths in Pennsylvania that involved benzodiazepines increased by more than 500 percent.
  • In 2004, 18 percent of people who died from an opioid overdose also had a benzodiazepine in their system. By 2011 that rate had risen to 31 percent.

According to a report that was issued by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Monroe County, Pennsylvania averaged 27.64 drug overdose deaths per 100,000 residents in 2015. Only 19 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties averaged more annual overdose deaths than Monroe County did. Both the state as a whole and Monroe County individually were far ahead of the national rate of 14.7 overdose deaths per 100,000 U.S. residents.

Getting Help in Monroe County

For individuals in Monroe County and throughout Pennsylvania who have been struggling with opioid abuse and/or benzodiazepine abuse, comprehensive care at a residential treatment center may provide them with the best opportunity to overcome the self-defeating compulsion to abuse these dangerous drugs, and can help them to establish a solid foothold in early recovery.

Opioid and benzodiazepine addictions can be extremely difficult to overcome on one’s own. However, with professional help, which can include medically monitored detox to ensure safety and increased comfort during the withdrawal period, a person can successfully end his or her dependence upon opioids and benzos, and learn to make the lifestyle changes that will support the pursuit of a healthier and more satisfying future.

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