Sedative Drugs—a New Source of Overdose


Every year it seems, every month or week even, we seem to hear something terrible happening in the news or in our communities that has to do with drug and alcohol abuse. Sadly, the United States is in the grips of a full-on addiction epidemic, a level of seriousness in a drug problem that the U.S. has never before experienced, until now. In fact, as recently as October of 2017, President Donald Trump himself increased the threat levels of the substance abuse epidemic to the point of a full on “National Public Health Emergency.” That goes a long way in indicating just how serious the issue is.

When we hear about drug epidemics and cataclysmic overdose rates on the news, these usually have to do with opioid drugs. Opioid drugs, i.e. heroin and prescription drugs, are the most concerning drug class right now simply because they claim the most lives every year.

However, with twenty-four million Americans falling prey to drug and alcohol abuse every year, it comes as no surprise that other drugs are increasing in popularity and prevalence too. Currently, pharmaceutical drugs like benzodiazepines, sedatives, stimulants, tranquilizers, antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and other mind-altering drugs are the first choice for hundreds of thousands of addicts. When a type or class of drug becomes as popular as benzodiazepines have, overdose statistics will surely go up.

Overdose Statistics on Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines like Xanax and Valium claim more lives every year than the year prior. These are sedative drugs, designed to reduce anxiety, insomnia, and other various hyperactive conditions. However, there is a pretty significant risk in consuming these drugs, both for those who self-medicate on them and for those who have a legitimate prescription for them.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, benzodiazepines were involved in no less than thirty percent of all overdose deaths that occur every year. This is second only to opiates, which are present in more than seventy percent of all overdose deaths.


People often wonder why, if we know there is a significant risk in taking benzodiazepines, why on earth would overdoses on them be so common? The answer lies in the increasing prescribing trends for benzodiazepine drugs. According to research, the percentage of adults taking a benzodiazepine drug increased by thirty percent between 1996 and 2013. Furthermore, during this time period, the sheer amount of benzodiazepine drugs prescribed to a patient in the average prescription doubled. So not only are more Americans being put on benzo drugs, but they are being prescribed far more of them when they are being put on them.

Benzodiazepines—The Hidden Epidemic

Benzodiazepines are the hidden epidemic because, while so much attention has been put on the opioid problem, few are paying attention to benzodiazepine drugs and the kinds of risks that they bring to the table. Overdoses on benzodiazepines more than quadrupled between 1999 and 2010. Since then, overdose deaths have increased further, especially amongst minorities.

The truly unfortunate thing here, other than the blatant loss of life at the hands of medicines that are supposed to “help us,” is that benzodiazepine addiction gets very little attention as the nation struggles in the grips of an opioid public health emergency. Understandable, to a degree.

Probably the most interesting factor here that warrants speculation is the fact that benzodiazepines don’t always accomplish what they are supposed to accomplish. They may suppress the symptoms of anxiety or nervousness, but do they ever actually fix the problem? No. People need real care. People need counseling. People need help. People don’t need a drug that doesn’t really work and that might kill them anyway.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.