This month, the FDA is taking a critical step in preventing future deaths and public harm caused by the interaction between opioids (painkillers) and benzodiazepines (anti-anxiety medication). In requiring that manufacturers institute a “black box” warning that highlights the danger of combining these two classes of drugs, the FDA is making a bold statement to both patients as well as doctors.
The reality is that these two classes of drugs are often prescribed together, as anxiety and pain are often found to go hand-in-hand. However, few drugs come without side effects, and opioids and benzodiazepines are no exception. The true danger lies in the fact that these two classes of drugs have similar side effects, which can mean an exponentially more powerful effect when taken together.
Specifically, both opioids and benzodiazepines can result in respiratory depression, extreme fatigue, and even coma. When taken improperly or in a dangerous ratio to one another, the body essentially shuts down and is too biologically depressed to perform basic functions like drawing breath.
It’s estimated that as many as 2.5 million Americans are prescribed both an opioid and a benzodiazepine simultaneously. The resulting overdoses (and off-label use) has culminated in what some medical professionals are deeming a full-blown public health crisis.
The problem is that many people legitimately need both of these classes of drugs, and the answer is not as easy as “stop taking one of the medications.” Instead, the FDA will seek to help educate and guide patients who take both of these drugs to ensure that they are using them safely and as intended. On the other hand, the FDA also intends to educate doctors about the scope of this massive health problem, and educate them about what they can do to ensure that patients take the medication as directed.
If you ever have a question about your medication, you can always visit Urgent 9 and seek the guidance of Dr. Momjian and his caring, professional staff.