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An Increasing Number of Teenagers Are Overdosing on Anti-anxiety Medication

Recently, a new study, which has been published in the journal Clinical Toxicology, shows a worrying trend in teenage drug abuse. Young adults and adolescents are now overdosing on medicines which are typically prescribed to treat conditions such as anxiety. The rise has a direct link with the rise in the number of prescriptions given by doctors, as said by the executive and medical director of the New Jersey Poison Control Center and co-author of the study, Dr. Diane Calello.

However, the increase in prescriptions of anti-anxiety or benzodiazepine drugs including Ativan or Valium, and Xanax is a result of the Opioid epidemic in the country. In order to cut down opioid overdose related health conditions, and death, Xanax and other drugs which fall in the same category are used as alternatives.

According to the study, nearly 297,000 benzodiazepine cases occurred between from 2000 to 2015 and were reported to different branches of U.S. Poison Control Center. The number of reported benzodiazepine-related incidents rose from 17.7 per 100,000 children at the start of 2000s to 29.3 per 100,000 by 2005. In the past two, three years, the percentage is still at 27.3 per 100,000.

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In addition to highlighting the increase in benzodiazepine overdose cases, the study also showed approximately half of the reported overdoses were intentional and was done either for different purposes including suicide attempt and for getting high. Overall, the number of teenagers intentionally overdosing increased from thirty six percent in 2010 to forty-eight percent in 2015.

On the other hand, the incidents of accidental benzodiazepine overdose decreased from sixty-one percent in 2010 to fifty percent in 2015. This accentuates a much deeper concern regarding intentional overdoses in adolescents. Not only are benzodiazepine medicines taken in dangerous quantities on purpose but also taken with other substances that make the consequences even worse.

For instance, the research every four in five teenager combines benzodiazepine drugs with either opioids or alcohol. Consequently, while an average of only 15-20 teens die from a benzodiazepine overdose per year, the number of teens who suffer from life long effects after using the drugs in a combination with other substances is much more. In fact, the percentage of adolescents having harmful illnesses as a result of overdose increased from fourteen percent in 2000 to twenty-four percent in 2015.

During the study period, 251 teenagers died from using benzodiazepine drugs with other substances and two teenagers died after overdosing on the drugs alone. Furthermore, around twenty-six percent of the adolescents using a combination of drugs and six percent of the teens using only benzodiazepine drugs had a life-threatening incident.

The vice chair and director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital, Dr. Victor Fornari states that benzodiazepine drugs are not suitable for treating anxiety or insomnia in children and teenagers.  He adds that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and cognitive behavioral therapies often work better.

Additionally, the chair of emergency medicine at Long Island Jewish Forest Hills Hospital, Dr. Teresa Murray Amato further comments on how parents should try to prevent getting prescription medicines, in general, for their children as much as they can as this is one of the mandatory steps to control benzodiazepine overdose in teens.


Mariyam Tanveer

Recently graduated from LUMS, I now work as Researcher and a Freelance Writer on Ask Health News

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