Terry Shapiro, MS, CAC – Vice President and Executive Director of Hanley Center and Florida Programs
When you get to be my age, the question starts to be asked a little more frequently: “What are you going to do when you retire?” Since my dream of becoming a major league baseball player is probably out of reach at this point, I say, “I am going to fight the way benzodiazepines are prescribed in the world.” Well, this past week, the Food and Drug Administration FINALLY took a step onto my battlefield against these overprescribed, often lethal medications.
The FDA is requiring an update to the boxed warning to “Include the risks of abuse, misuse, addiction, physical dependence, and withdrawal reactions.”
In this writer’s opinion, this is long overdue. At Origins Behavioral HealthCare, we have seen the ravages of addiction this drug can cause when the often unsuspecting patient becomes physiologically dependent. Most patients cite their reason for getting prescribed benzodiazepines like Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, and Ativan in the first place was for anxiety. When we dig a little deeper, we often find that the anxiety stemmed from the fear of social gatherings, fear of flying, and the recent loss of a loved one. All of which are things that could first be worked on in therapy or meditation. However, we have become accustomed to having a quick fix pill for everything that ails us without even measuring the potential risks associated with them.
For people with a true anxiety disorder, it is also important to note that there are many non-narcotic medications that do not pose an addiction risk.
I have always felt that benzodiazepines are the “Big Pharmas” answer to putting alcohol in pill form since we know that it has been the “social lubricant” used to deal with the aforementioned reasons for benzodiazepine prescribing. Let’s face it, folks, WE ARE ALL ANXIOUS! Feeling anxious is part of the human condition and something we were given to survive dangerous situations. Learning to understand these emotions and why we feel them should be our goal, not to avoid them by putting potentially harmful chemicals in our bodies; our temples. Don’t get me wrong. I realize that these also have a place in medicine when used for things like controlling seizures.
While benzodiazepines may be the last resort for some patients with anxiety disorders, everyone suffers when they are used as a first line of defense.
Use of these potentially fatal drugs should always be coupled with therapies and the risk of addiction should always be carefully discussed and monitored.
What was scary to me was when I read the statistic in the September 23rd FDA announcement that “in 2019, outpatient pharmacies in the United States dispensed about 92 million benzodiazepine prescriptions.” During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a sharp increase in overdose deaths involving the lethal combination of opioids, benzodiazepines, and alcohol. Let’s face it, these are challenging times we are living, and without established effective coping mechanisms, it is easy to fall into the prescription drug trap completely unaware since doctors and the information that comes with prescriptions warn us only of potential medication side effects from taking the drug, and not the dangers of abruptly stopping them.
Thank you to the Food and Drug Administration, who took a positive step in helping me fight my current and future battle.
Origins Behavioral Healthcare is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance abuse, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care for addiction and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting sobriety. For information on our programs, call us today: 561-841-1296.