Concurrent Use Of Opioids AND Benzodiazepines Occurs At Alarming Rate, Study Finds

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Concurrent Use Of Opioids AND Benzodiazepines Occurs At Alarming Rate, Study Finds

Approximately 25% of patients who were prescribed either opioids or benzodiazepines tested positive for both drugs, according to a new study published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine. An accompanying press release stresses that concurrent use of the two drugs can result in respiratory depression, cardiac distress, and death.

For the study, researchers at Quest Diagnostics analyzed prescription drug monitoring data and discovered that in over half the results with concurrent use, one drug was prescribed, but the other was not. This indicates that many patients are using this potentially dangerous combination without clinical oversight.

In 2016, the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning on both benzodiazepines and prescription opioids informing prescribers of the hazards of concurrent use. Last month, the FDA stressed that the issue was complex, however, and that “careful medication management by healthcare professionals” could mitigate the risk of serious side effects.

The large-scale study examined more than 231,000 sets of test results from 144,500 patients in 48 states tested by Quest Diagnostics from March-December of 2015. This study is thought to be the first national analysis of concurrent opioid an benzodiazepine use that compares objective lab data rather than using only prescription records.

Other findings:

  • More women than men engaged in the concurrent use of opioids and benzodiazepines (28.3% of women versus 22.2% of men.
  • Use of benzodiazepines, opioids, and concurrent use of both drugs increased with age but leveled off among those 65+ years of age.
  • Pain clinics patients were more likely to show evidence of concurrent use than those under other care.
    Medicare patients tested for higher levels of benzodiazepine use, opioid use, and concurrent use than Medicaid patients and those commercially or privately insured.

F. Leland McClure, Ph.D., Quest Diagnostics:

“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…

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

~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology


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