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Opioids and Benzodiazepines: A Dangerous, and Common, Combination

More than a quarter of patients being tested for either prescribed opioids or prescribed benzodiazepines tested positive for both drugs, according to a new study in the Journal of Addiction Medicine.

“Our findings far exceed previous estimates of combining opiates and benzodiazepines based on prescribing databases alone, suggesting existing prescription databases and monitoring programs do not fully reflect the extent to which individuals may combine these drug classes in the United States,” said lead author F. Leland McClure, PhD, MSci, F-ABFT, Director, Medical Science Liaison, Medical Affairs, Quest Diagnostics.

In the study, over 144,000 samples from patients who were prescribed at least one of the two drugs were tested for both. The results showed that more than 25% of samples were positive for both an opioid and a benzodiazepine. Of those patients who tested positive for both, 52% had a prescription for only one of the two drugs, meaning they were using the other one outside of medical supervision. Both drug classes are central nervous system depressants. The combination of the two can suppress the respiratory system and cause cardiac distress, increasing the risk of death.

“Physicians should be aware of potentially dangerous drug interactions beyond the prescription level,” Dr. McClure said, “and our data demonstrate these interactions are happening with alarming frequency.”

Reference

McClure FL, Niles JK, Kaufman HW, Gudin J. Concurrent Use of Opioids and Benzodiazepines: Evaluation of Prescription Drug Monitoring by a United States Laboratory. J Addict Med. 2017.

November 13, 2017