FDA Warning: Combining Opioids and Anti Anxiety Medication Can Result in Overdose
This past week, U.S. health officials warned that mixing opioid painkillers and anti anxiety medication can result in an overdose. Popularly used painkillers include Valium, Norco, and Oxycontin.
Furthermore, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is set to require warnings on nearly 400 products. These warnings, which will be placed on boxes, are intended to alert health professionals and the public of the potential lethal nature of this interaction.
Anti anxiety medication (benzodiazepines), like opioids, also depress the central nervous system. Drugs such as Xanax are commonly used to treat anxiety disorders and insomnia.
When opioids and benzos are combined, even at moderate doses, the interaction could result in coma or death. Moreover, combining these drugs can make the patient excessively sleepy, and even result in life-threatening central nervous system depression.
Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen:
“Nearly one in three unintentional overdose deaths from prescription opioids also involve benzodiazepines.”
Wen warns that physicians often prescribe these medications without fully comprehending the risks involved.
“If a patient was in a car accident and experiencing neck pain, a clinician might prescribe opioids for the pain and benzodiazepines for muscle spasms. A patient who is on benzodiazepines for anxiety disorder might get prescribed opioids for pain relief, and vice versa.”
“I urge patients to look inside your own medicine cabinets and ask, ‘What is this medication for? Do I need it? What are the side effects? Could there be a dangerous combination? Please speak to your doctor if you have questions or concerns.”
The warning will placed on the boxes of hundreds of medications, including those which contain opioids such as oxycodone and benzodiazepines such as Valium.
FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf:
“One thing really stood out to me, that I heard consistently from each place on our trip — benzodiazepines and opioids were an increasing threat for overdose as seen in their emergency departments.”
“This rise in overdoses and deaths due to the combined use of these products isn’t new. Communities have been seeing this trend for some time, but ultimately we needed data in order to act today.”
Recently, a research project conducted by the FDA took note of this unfortunate trend – these two classes of drugs are often prescribed together, despite the potential hazards. In fact, the amount of patients who were prescribed both classes of drugs grew 41% between 2002-2014. That results in an increase of over 2.5 million patients receiving both painkillers and anti anxiety medications.
Dr. Doug Throckmorton, deputy director of regulatory programs with the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research:
“We know approximately half of concurrent benzodiazepine and opioid analgesic prescriptions were dispensed to patients on the same day and prescribed by the same health care provider.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioids were responsible for more than 28,000 deaths in 2014, half of which involved a prescription medication. In fact, more persons died from prescription drug overdoses in 2014 than any other year on record.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology