When the Rolling Stones sang “Mother’s Little Helper,” they were talking about a drug called Miltown that was marketed aggressively to stressed-out women: “If you take more of those, you will get an overdose/no more running for the shelter of mother’s little helper.” It became available in 1954, and by 1956, 36 million prescriptions had been written for it.
Then came the next generation of anti-anxiety meds. Librium, in the 1960s, became the first billion-dollar drug; next came benzos, or benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, Valium and Klonopin. By 2008 more than 112 million prescriptions were written for benzos annually. According to a study in JAMA Psychiatry, about 1 in 20 adults ages 18-80 had a prescription that year.
The popularity of benzos prescriptions has ushered in an increase in the number of benzo-related overdoses. In 2013, they accounted for 31 percent of deaths from prescription-drug overdoses in the U.S. According to the lead author of a study in the American Journal of Public Health, “overdoses involving benzodiazepines ... have increased more than five-fold since 1996 -- a public-health problem that has gone under the radar.”
That’s why we want to alert folks who are taking benzos (with or without a legit prescription) that they can be dangerous. Addicted or habituated? Reach out to a local medical treatment program, 12-step group or friends and family for help. Taking them for medical reasons? Work with your doctors to keep tabs on how much you’re taking and how long you stay on them.
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Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit www.sharecare.com.