FDA warns of combined drug overdose risk for opioid painkillers, anti-anxiety medications

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by Jim Orr

The Food and Drug Administration has announced that it will require manufacturers to issue a “black box warning” about the risk of a combined drug overdose for patients taking opioid painkillers and anti-anxiety medications. The new warnings, which cover about 400 drugs in total, state that the use of opioids in combination with a class of anxiety drugs known as benzodiazepines can cause potentially fatal drug interactions.

In a press release announcing the new warnings, the FDA stated that both prescription painkillers and benzodiazepines slow the central nervous system. When used in combination, the CNS-depressant effects of these drugs are magnified. Potential complications that may result from using opioid painkillers in combination with benzodiazepines may include sleepiness, respiratory depression, coma, or death.

The opioid medications included in the FDA’s warning include prescription medications such as oxycodone, fentanyl, hydrocodone, tramadol, oxymorphone, and morphine, as well as cough medications that contain opioid painkillers. The new warning also includes benzodiazepines such as Valium (diazepam) and Xanax (alprazolam), which are frequently used to treat patients with neurological or psychological conditions, such as anxiety, insomnia, or seizures. The FDA warning also included sleep medications and tranquilizers such as Ambien and Lunesta, muscle relaxants such as Soma, and antipsychotic medications such as Abilify, Seroquel, Risperdal, and Zyprexa.

The FDA says that the new black box warning was needed because of the increased frequency with which doctors have been prescribing opioids and benzodiazepines in combination. Between 2002 and 2014, the FDA says that the number of patients who were prescribed opioid painkillers in combination with benzodiazepines rose by 41%, an increase of about 2.5 million patients nationwide.

This increase has caused the number of overdose cases involving the two drug classes to skyrocket. According to the FDA, between 2004 and 2011, the number of overdose deaths involving patients who had taken both anxiety drugs and prescription painkillers tripled. The FDA says that the number of emergency room visits involving patients who had taken opioids and benzodiazepines also rose significantly during that time.

The FDA’s decision to issue a black box warning for opioids and benzodiazepines came as a result of a citizen petition from a number of local and state health officials. A scientific review that concluded after the agency had received the petition in February 2016 highlighted the risks of prescribing opioid medications with anti-anxiety drugs, as well as the increased frequency with which these drugs were being used together.

Hurt by a Combined Drug Overdose? You May Qualify to File a Lawsuit.

When doctors, hospitals, or pharmacists fail to properly prescribe prescription medications to their patients, serious and potentially deadly complications may result. Every year, thousands of patients in the U.S. are seriously injured as a result of complications caused by the combined effects of two or more prescription drugs.

If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of a combined drug overdose, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit against the drugs’ manufacturers. Lawsuits have also been filed against doctors and hospitals who negligently prescribed drugs to their patients, as well as against pharmacists who filled these prescriptions. The first step in filing a lawsuit against a drug manufacturer, doctor, pharmacist, or hospital is to talk with a law firm whose attorneys have the experience in personal injury and medical malpractice litigation to advise you regarding your legal rights.

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 tried hundreds of cases to verdict and has achieved settlements in hundreds more on behalf of our clients. In recent years, our attorneys have collected more than $200 million in damages on behalf of our clients. Heygood, Orr & Pearson 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 by medical devices such as hip or knee replacements and transvaginal mesh products used in surgical repair of damaged tissue.

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 lawsuit, 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.