Opiates are a known problem. The heroin epidemic is evidence enough of that, with how it has swept through urban areas, and expanded its reach into suburban and rural areas, too. But what’s not as well known is the deadly opiate/benzo cocktail. This cocktail suppresses the nervous system, impairs or even stops breathing, and it’s dangerously popular.
Benzos, short for benzodiazepines, are a class of prescription drugs that include the more commonly known prescription medications such as Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, and Ativan. They’re usually prescribed for anxiety, and easy access from doctors makes them convenient.
But benzos are also one of the most widely abused drugs in America. Millions of these prescriptions exist at any given time, as benzos are known for reducing stress, and America is a stress-laden culture. They’re risky enough on their own, because of their highly addictive properties. Combined with opiates, they can turn deadly fast.
Opiate/Benzo Cocktails Aren’t All Illegal
Heroin and benzos can be one of the most dangerous and addictive combinations imaginable. But an opiate/benzo cocktail doesn’t have to be illegal to be deadly. Many opiates, such as Vicodin and Morphine, are perfectly legal with a prescription. But that doesn’t make them any less dangerous. Both opiates and benzos suppress the central nervous system and when used together, they can shut it down.
The nature of both classes of the drugs can create a powerful addiction that’s difficult to escape, especially if a person is abusing the drugs in order to treat a mental health condition. We rarely see a client struggling with addiction who doesn’t also have an underlying mental illness. In this situation, we recommend entering a co-occurring treatment program to manage the dual diagnosis.
Celebrities That Have Died from Lethal Drug Combos
In recent years, there have been several widely publicized celebrity deaths related to opiates. In 2008, actor Heath Ledger died from “an accidental overdose of prescription medications including painkillers, anti-anxiety drugs, and sleeping pills,” according to CNN. A few years later, actor Cory Monteith, best known for his role on the TV show “Glee,” died from an opiate/alcohol cocktail made of heroin and champagne. And just recently, the beloved performer Prince passed away from an opioid overdose of the drug fentanyl.
All of these deaths are tragic, but they have shone a bright light on the opioid abuse epidemic in the United States. PBS explained “the opioid epidemic has been called the worst drug crisis in American history. Death rates now rival those of AIDS during the 1990s, and with overdoses from heroin and other opioids now killing more than 27,000 people a year, the crisis has led to urgent calls for action.” There is no doubt that something needs to change, however, much more attention is put toward opiate overdoses when benzos play an all too common role.
The Combination is Growing More Common
When a death from overdose happens, the death certificate might reveal “cardiac arrest.” That explains the ultimate cause, but not the underlying one. More and more frequently, these drugs are showing up in toxicology reports, but the statistics are sometimes muddled or glossed over altogether.
When roughly one-third of all reported opiate deaths also include benzos, you’d expect there to be national attention – especially when combining the two drugs intensifies the effects of both and increases the chance of death. But the demand for anxiety medications is so great that the risks are dramatically underreported.
Opiate/benzo cocktails might not make news headlines, but it’s yet another growing epidemic in America. Where heroin is found, there’s a good chance that benzodiazepines will be, too. But with the dangers of heroin so obvious, other opiates might not register on anyone’s radar. Any combination of opiates and benzodiazepines is dangerous, whether it’s self-medication or prescribed by a doctor.
At Cornerstone Recovery Center in South Florida, we know the risks of this deadly drug combination and why it appeals to so many people. As a dual diagnosis treatment center, we can help identify and treat not just the addiction, but also get to the root cause of the addiction.