Zannies, Bars, KPs, UpJohn, to name a few. These are some of the street names that describe benzos (the family of drugs that alprazolam belongs to-Benzodiazepines) or anti-depressants. By now, most of us are aware of the fact that prescription abuse and addiction is a real THING. Most of us are also aware that just because a drug is 'prescribed', doesn't make it safe or non-addictive. This is an unfortunate fact, due to many reasons of course, one of which is the lack of control in supposedly 'controlled' substances. However, what's not being covered as much is the emergence of a new fatal crisis: Benzos.
These drugs are usually prescribed to treat anxiety and depression and can quite be effective at doing so. But just like opioids, benzos can be abused and are addictive, especially if they get into the wrong hands or are haphazardly prescribed. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), prescriptions for benzos increased at a whopping rate of 65% from 1996 to 2013 as compared to the steady decline of opioids, which was at 5% from 2012-2016. Further, there are over 13.5 million patients who are prescribed benzos with some sources claiming that number is over 60 million.
One could argue that these numbers are not indicative of any crisis or risky behavior amongst prescribed users. This unfortunately is not true. Of the overdoses that were documented by the CDC, 30 percent of the cases included benzos in the mix. The risk of an overdose increases dramatically once these drugs are combined with other substances, such as oxy and alcohol. Further, there is a growing market for illicit Xanax, analogous to the fentanyl crisis that engulfed prescription opioids. Dealers and drug traffickers are picking up on this trend by creating synthetic benzos that are 10 times stronger than their 'controlled' family member.
Benzos such as Xanax and Klonopins are a schedule IV drug compared to opioids, which are schedule II. The premise behind this difference is that the former is less prone to 'abuse' than the latter. But we've come to realize that these are just numerical categories that don't accurately describe the risk that these drugs pose on patients and users. For example, heroine and fentanyl are classified as a category I substance but are chemically inseparable to prescription opioids, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone (Class II). History should be our best friend in these dire times and it shows us that categorical shifts are bound to happen as we learn from our pitfalls.
This blog post is not meant to deviate attention from the positive data that's been released by the CDC and NIH on the ebbing opioid crisis. As a person in recovery, I am ever optimistic that we are on the right track and the early results are hopefully guiding us in that direction. However, I have a duty to myself and the people around me to raise awareness when needed. And this is one of them. Let's learn from our mistakes and look further into our drug culture, not just opioids.