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Benzo Addiction A Growing Concern For Health Experts

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DENVER (CBS4)- Prescription drugs called “Benzos” are a class of one of the most widely prescribed medications in the U.S., but there is new concern in Colorado that they are being overused.

Benzodiazepines include a variety of sedative-like medications used to treat ailments like anxiety and insomnia.

Clonazepam, the generic of Klonopin. (credit: CBS)

Clonazepam, the generic of Klonopin. (credit: CBS)

Benzos are becoming very controversial in the medical community because of the dangers of tolerance and addiction.

“I wish I had explored every other option for relief of my symptoms,” said Kelley McMillian.

She started taking the Benzodiazepine “Klonopin” in 2008 when she complained to her doctor about anxiety and problems sleeping.

“I didn’t even know what they were,” said McMillian.

The then 29-year-old was prescribed a daily 1.5 milligram dose of Clonazepam, the generic version of Klonopin, a high dose but within normal parameters.

“I grew up kind of believing that psychiatric medications were normal,” said McMillian.

Over the next few months she said the drug worked wonders. But those months turned into years and that’s when she started noticing other problems.

“If I didn’t have my medication or if I ran out, I wouldn’t be able to sleep,” said McMillian.

And she started to notice other side effects; her good memory was faltering and her mood and anxiety actually started to get worse.

At one point McMillian stopped taking the pills cold turkey, “I couldn’t sleep and I just fell into a massive depression, I was crying for days.”

It was at this time that a different doctor told her that she was worried McMillian developed a dependency and needed to ease herself off the drug slowly.

“When they are taken for a very long time, the body builds a resistance to the medication,” said University of Colorado Hospital Addiction Specialist Dr. Patrick Fehling.

Fehling said Benzo’s do serve a helpful purpose in treating short term anxiety, “Where Benzodiazepines are dangerous really involves their addictive potential and their overdose potential.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdose deaths surpassed motor vehicle deaths in 2011, with Benzo-related fatalities responsible for more than cocaine or heroin.

“There are risks with these medications, they are control substances for a reason,” said Fehling.

Specifically in Colorado, Benzo-related deaths have risen sharply. According to a recent report from the National Institute of Drug Abuse Colorado, death rates have nearly doubled from the years 2003 to 2012.

“It’s most dangerous when it’s mixed with other substances such as alcohol or prescription pain killers,” said Fehling.

“Getting off them has been really difficult,” said McMillian.

McMillian is almost completely off of her medication. Now she’s using other coping methods such as not drinking alcohol, exercising and using her profession as a writer to document her experience.

“Benzos are not a cure, they are a Band-Aid,” said McMillian.

She advises those with similar issues to do research before turning to prescription drugs, “I never knew that these drugs had the potential for chemical dependency.”

Fehling said medical offices nationwide have put an emphasis on the potential dangers of Benzodazipines.

Anyone who believes they may be developing a dependency or addiction is urged to talk to their health care provider.

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