Combined use of painkillers and anxiety drugs increases overdose risk, study finds

by Jim Orr

Patients who are prescribed a class of anti-anxiety drugs known as benzodiazepines in combination with opioid painkillers are significantly more likely to suffer an overdose, according to a recent study published by the British Medical Journal (BMJ). Researchers found that patients today are twice as likely to be prescribed benzodiazepines in combination with prescription painkillers as they were in 2001.

Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine who analyzed the health records of more than 300,000 patients found that patients who were intermittent users of prescription painkillers were 42% more likely to be hospitalized for an overdose when they also used benzodiazepines. For chronic opioid users, the risk of an overdose was 81% higher when they used painkillers together with benzodiazepines.

Opioid painkillers – including medications such as hydrocodone, methadone, oxycodone, fentanyl, and hydromorphone – are some of the most commonly prescribed prescription drugs in the U.S. As the frequency of opioid prescriptions has risen in the U.S. over the last 20 years, the number of opioid overdoses has also risen sharply. According to data from the CDC, about 20,000 opioid overdose deaths occur in the U.S. each year, representing about 60% of all fatal pharmaceutical overdoses.

Benzodiazepines are a class of medications prescribed to treat anxiety, seizures, and sleeping disorders. Also known as “benzos,” these drugs are prescribed under brand names such as Altivan, Dalmane, Halcion, Klonopin, Librium, Prosom, Restoril, Serax, Tranxene, Xanax, and Valium. The CDC estimates that benzodiazepines are involved in about 30% of drug overdose deaths in the U.S.

According to the Stanford study, the frequency with which patients are prescribed benzodiazepines in combination with opioid painkillers has risen steadily in recent years. In 2013, about 17% of opioid users were also prescribed benzodiazepines; in 2001, only 9% of opioid users received a prescription for the anti-anxiety drugs.

The Stanford researchers also found that reducing the number of patients who are prescribed opioids together with benzodiazepines could substantially reduce the number of pharmaceutical overdoses in the U.S. According to the study, totally eliminating the use of benzodiazepines together with prescription painkillers would reduce the number of patients at risk of an opioid overdose by 15%.

In September 2016, the FDA issued a “black box warning” about the risk of using opioid painkillers in combination with benzodiazepines. According to the FDA warning, both opioid and benzos slow the body’s central nervous system; when both of these drugs are taken by patients, the CNS-depressant effects of the drugs become magnified, significantly increasing the risk of a combined drug overdose.

Lawsuits Filed on Behalf of Pharmaceutical Overdose Victims

If you or a loved one have suffered a combined drug overdose involving opioid painkillers and benzodiazepines, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit against the drugs’ manufacturers, or the doctors, pharmacists, or hospitals who negligently provided these medications to patients. The first step in taking legal action is to speak with a law firm whose attorneys have the experience in personal injury and medical malpractice litigation to advise you regarding your legal rights and guide you through the first steps of filing a case.

The lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson have filed hundreds of lawsuits on behalf of patients who have been injured by dangerous drugs or defective medical products. Our attorneys have the experience, expertise, and resources to take on any pharmaceutical liability case. Heygood, Orr & Pearson has filed dozens of lawsuits on behalf of victims of opioid overdoses and has handled more lawsuits involving the power opioid medications fentanyl than all other law firms in the country combined.

During our decades of legal experience, the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson have achieved verdicts and settlements in hundreds of cases on behalf of our clients. Our law firm has pursued pharmaceutical liability claims involving injuries linked to a number of different pharmaceutical products, including Yasmin, Actos, Avandia, Pradaxa and Xarelto, Zofran, and other drugs. We have also filed lawsuits on behalf of patients who were injured as a result of medical malpractice by a doctors and hospitals, or because of defective medical devices and other commercial products

If believe that you or a loved one have been hurt as a result of a combined drug overdose, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit and pursue compensation for injuries, medical bills, and other costs. For a free legal consultation and to learn more about whether you may qualify to file a claim, contact the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson by calling us toll-free at 1-877-446-9001. You can also contact us by following the link to our free case evaluation form and answering a few brief questions to get started.