Drug counselor sees parallel between benzo prescriptions and opioid crisis

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Drug counselors say they are now concerned benzodiazepines, or benzos, could be the cause of the next drug epidemic.

Commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medicines Xanax, Klonopin, Ativan and Valium are benzos.

Jennifer Brock is in long-term recovery. She says she's learned a lot about herself and why she turned to alcohol and drugs when she was younger.

"I know today that it all started with that anxious, fearful, depressed state that I was always in. I just wanted to feel normal," said Brock.

According to researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, benzo prescriptions have skyrocketed, going up 67% from 8 million to 14 million between 1996 and 2013.

Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds, with the Family and Children's Association, says with so much attention now on the opioid epidemic, there's a real fear that there's not enough of a focus on people struggling with benzo addiction.

"I think the most troubling thing about this is that we see the parallels between this and the opioid crisis," said Reynolds. "We see drug makers and distributors actively marketing Xanax as something that will solve all of your problems, including getting on a plane. We see the prescriptions beginning to rise. We're beginning to see an increase in the overdose fatalities. And we see a real casualness about going on Xanax and taking Xanax and almost people joking about it."

According to statistics from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, overdose deaths from benzodiazepines has also increased dramatically -- from just over 1,000 20 years ago, to more than 11,000 in 2017.

Doctors say education for patients and prescribers is key to avoiding a worse crisis down the road.

"My hope would be that we've learned some lessons from the opioid crisis in terms of the importance of educating prescribers, the importance of educating consumers. The importance of perhaps limiting some of those prescriptions and making sure that people have access to good care instead of taking a pill," said Reynolds.

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