Overdose

The Wrong Mix: Benzos and Opiates Can be Deadly When Combined

Benzodiazepines can amplify the feelings of euphoria brought on by opiates making the mixture attractive for drug users

Heath Ledger died too soon.  The Hollywood actor should be enjoying his family and career and may have even reprised his role as the Joker in The Dark Night. But a lethal combination of doctor-prescribed drugs killed him in January 2008.

The New York City Medical Examiner ruled the death an accidental overdose, noting that toxicology tests found oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam, and doxylamine in his system.

Opiate & Benzodiazepines

Opiates are narcotic drugs that contain opium or an opium derivative. Benzodiazepines form a large family of medications that include such drugs as Ativan, Klonopin, Xanax and Valium. These medications are used to control anxiety, as a sedative or as a muscle relaxer. According to an analysis conducted by the Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services for Central Ohio.com, drugs such as Xanax and Valium are frequently used in conjunction with Percocet and Vicodin.

This can be risky for many people because opiates and benzos can depress the central nervous system. Meaning, you could just stop breathing and not wake up.

Benzodiazepines were named in over 300 death certificates in 2010, according to the Department of Health and were detected in 19 percent of overdose victims that same year. These drugs are prone to cause a physical dependence and people tend to build a tolerance to them rather quickly.

Risks of Combining the Drugs

Benzodiazepines are often misused and often taken with other medications, according to Orman Hall, director of Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services. He said that people who abuse opiates often take benzos too. Using them in the same day can be risky. Using them at the same time can be deadly.

Benzodiazepines can amplify the feelings of euphoria brought on by opiates. Because both drugs are sedative in nature, there is a greater risk for those who abuse the two to slip into unconsciousness and possibly die. If these drugs are combined, increasing the CNS depressant effect, they can cause slowed breathing, heart rate and respiration, all which have the potential to be fatal.

Many physicians who have experience with pain management and anxiety might find the combination of these two types of drugs too risky. But people with persistent pain are often in need of some sort of sedative – either to relax or sleep. So what is the answer to this dilemma? If you are abusing these meds, reach out for professional help, which can include detox. If you have pain and anxiety issues, try to find other ways to manage them.

If pain is the primary issue, there are plenty of alternative therapies and other activities that can help you with the anxiety. These include counseling, massage, acupuncture, relaxation, yoga and exercise. There are ways to manage these issues without putting your health and life on the line.

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