Opioid painkillers and anti-anxiety drugs – which are often prescribed in tandem – are prematurely killing a disproportionate number of white women, according to a Washington Post analysis.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just required black box warnings be placed on the safety labels of opioids and anti-anxiety drugs known as benzodiazepines, or “benzos,” explaining that taking the two drugs together was potentially lethal. The warning affected nearly 400 products in total.
The Washington Post analysis involved middle-aged participants from the latest National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and found that white women prescribed the powerful painkillers were five times more likely to also be prescribed anti-anxiety drugs as well.
Opioids are a class of painkiller that include OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, morphine, and even illegal drugs such as heroin and methadone. Benzos, which are primarily prescribed to treat anxiety but are also used to treat insomnia and seizures, include Xanax, Klonopin and Valium.
“It is nothing short of a public health crisis when you see a substantial increase of avoidable overdose and death related to two widely used drug classes being taken together,” FDA Commissioner Robert Califf said in a statement. “We implore health care professionals to heed these new warnings and more carefully and thoroughly evaluate, on a patient-by-patient basis, whether the benefits of using opioids and benzodiazepines — or CNS (central nervous system) depressants more generally — together outweigh these serious risks.”
The FDA has no authority over doctors’ prescribing habits, but has placed stronger warnings on opioids in recent months. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidelines this spring that warned doctors to reduce the general use of opioids for chronic pain, and that prescribing them with benzos – especially in patients who drink alcohol – could be deadly.
Source: Washington Post