400 is a big number. 400 is an especially big number when it is a percentage. Anything that is increasing or decreasing by 400 hundred percent is usually something of concern. Over the course of fifteen years, between 1999 and 2014, opiate overdose deaths in middle aged white women rose 400 percent. Opiates are not the only cause of this concerning number. Anxiety medications like benzodiazepines accounted for a dramatic share of the deaths- almost a third.
Opiates can range from street drugs to prescription drugs. Prescription opiates are painkillers, prescribed to treat trauma, injruy, surgery recovery, or chronic pain. Opiates are used as painkillers because of their morphine content. Morphine is an analgesic which the body naturally produces when it ingests opium. All opiate medications derive from the opium plant. Common prescription opiate painkillers include: Hydrocodone, Oxyncontin, Oxycodone, Zohydro, Norco, Codeine, and Percocet. Recently, “designer drugs” or synthetic drugs have been opiate imitators. Drugs like Fentanyl, Carfentanil, W-18 and U-4770 are synthetic opiate drugs. Morphine is also produced when the body ingests heroin, which is a street version of opium. Heroin can range in its potency and purity making it an unpredictable drug.
Benzodiazepines are prescribed primarily to treat anxiety. While benzodiazepines are not meant, or indicated by doctors, to be habit forming, many find they become dependent on the drug. Without their regular dose of anti-anxiety medication people experience the same symptoms of withdrawal addicts do despite not even abusing the medication. Benzodiazepines work in a similar manner to opiates by slowing down the central nervous system and causing a feeling of calm and painlessness. Common Benzodiazepines include: Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, and Atavan. Xanax is a popularly abused drug. Cases of fentanyl, the strong synthetic opiate, being disguised as Xanax, have surfaced in southern and east coast areas.
The Washington Post reports that caucasian women are five times more likely than caucasian men to be given a dual prescription of both opiate painkillers and anti-anxiety benzodiazepines. Thankfully, the government is taking action to prevent any more increase in female drug related deaths. The CDC, the center for disease control, released a guideline encouraging doctors to educate patients on the risk of taking opioids and benzodiazepines together. The FDA, the food and drug administration, is now requiring a warning label on both medications, advising about the overdose risk for taking both medications.