A class of drugs used to treat anxiety could be causing a new health crisis across the country including in the Tri-State.
“I think it’s overlooked,” says Dr. Randall Oliver, Boyett Treatment Center Medical Director.
Benzodiazepines, often called “benzos” for short, are sedatives primarily used to treat anxiety, depression, and restlessness.
The class of drugs includes xanax, valium, ativan, and klonopin.
But health professionals say issues from benzos such as dependency and addiction are fueling a hidden epidemic similar to the opioid crisis.
“Part of it is people don’t think it’s dangerous because the doctor wrote it for them and anything the doctor wrote for them has to be okay. The other is people don’t want to think it’s dangerous,” says Dr. Oliver.
And although benzodiazepines are prescribed to help a patient, sometimes they can do more harm than good.
“What I see is physicians still handing out too many benzos without thinking about it,” says Dr. Oliver. “They are watching their opioids, but giving them the benzos and not paying attention to all the things that are addictive.”
Meant for short term, Oliver says benzodiazepines are highly addictive sometimes even more than opioids.
“They work the best if you take them intermittently if you’re having a panic attack take some a few times a week they help,” says Dr. Oliver. “If you take a benzo everyday regularly it quits working you become tolerant to it.”
In August, Evansville Police arrested a 21-year-old man after he crashed his car while high on xanax with his baby girl in the backseat.
Then earlier this summer, another Evansville man was arrested after passing out behind the wheel with his three-month-old baby in the backseat.
Authorities say not only are situation like these dangerous, but illegal.
For Dr. Oliver, he says there are solutions.
“One thing we should be doing is not starting with the Valium immediately,” says Oliver. “You’re nervous here’s Valium. There are non-addictive things.”
That’s why two tri-state hospitals are being pro-active and careful when it comes to prescribing these medications.
At Owensboro Health, they already have a system in place to monitor and track how they are prescribing medications.
Meanwhile, Deaconess uses a program called INSPECT which allows medical physicians prescribing any controlled substance to check the patient’s drug history and risks of unintentional overdoses associated with certain medications.
Autho0rities like Vanderburgh County Sheriff Dave Wedding say this is also a problem deputies see on the streets with people taking the medication without a prescription.
Often times people experience similar symptoms of being intoxicated and even high.