Benzodiazepines Addiction Treatment

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Benzodiazepine Facts

The benzodiazepine family of depressants is used to produce sedation, induce sleep, relieve anxiety and muscle spasms, and to prevent seizures. In general, benzodiazepines act as hypnotics in high doses, anxiolytics1 in moderate doses, and sedatives in low doses. Of the drugs marketed in the United States that affect central nervous system function, benzodiazepines are among the most widely prescribed medications. Fifteen members of this group are presently marketed in the United States, and about 20 additional benzodiazepines are marketed in other countries. Benzodiazepines are controlled in Schedule IV2 of the CSA3.

Benzodiazepines are among the most commonly prescribed depressant medications in the United States today. More than 15 different types of benzodiazepine medications exist to treat a wide array of both psychological and physical maladies based on dosage and implications.

The US Drug Enforcement Administration reports that short-acting benzodiazepines are generally used for patients with sleep-onset insomnia (difficulty falling asleep) without daytime anxiety. Shorter-acting benzodiazepines used to manage insomnia include estazolam (ProSom®), flurazepam (Dalmane®), temazepam (Restoril®), and triazolam (Halcion®). Midazolam (Versed®), a short-acting benzodiazepine, is utilized for sedation, anxiety, and amnesia in critical care settings and prior to anesthesia. It is available in the United States as an injectable preparation and as a syrup (primarily for pediatric patients).

Benzodiazepines with a longer duration of action are utilized to treat insomnia in patients with daytime anxiety. These benzodiazepines include alprazolam (Xanax®), chlordiazepoxide (librium®), clorazepate (Tranxene®), diazepam (Valium®, halazepam (Paxipam®), lorzepam (Ativan®), oxazepam (Serax®), prazepam (Centrax®), and quazepam (Doral®). Clonazepam (Klonopin®), diazepam, and clorazepate are also used as anticonvulsants.

Benzodiazepines are classified in the CSA as depressants. Repeated use of large doses or; even in some cases, daily use of therapeutic doses of benzodiazepines is associated with amnesia, hostility, irritability, and vivid or disturbing dreams, as well as tolerance and physical dependence. The withdrawal syndrome is similar to that of alcohol and may require hospitalization. Abrupt cessation of benzodiazepines is not recommended and can be extremely dangerous. Tapering-down the dose eliminates many of the unpleasant symptoms.

Millions of prescriptions are written for benzodiazepines (about 100 million in 1999). Individuals who  abuse benzodiazepines often maintain their drug supply by getting prescriptions from several doctors, forging prescriptions, or buying diverted pharmaceutical products on the illicit market. Abuse is frequently associated with adolescents and young adults who take benzodiazepines to obtain a "high." This intoxicated state results in reduced inhibition and impaired judgment. Concurrent use of alcohol or other depressant; with benzodiazepines can be life threatening. Abuse of benzodiazepines is particularly high among heroin and cocaine abusers. A large percentage of people entering treatment for narcotic or cocaine addiction also report abusing benzodiazepines. Alprazolam and diazepam are the two most frequently encountered benzodiazepines on the illicit market.

Photo of a blister pack of Rohypnol® tablets.Flunitrazepam (Rohypnol®) is a benzodiazepine that is not manufactured or legally marketed in the United States, but is smuggled in by traffickers. In the mid-1990s, flunitrazepam was extensively trafficked in Florida and Texas. Known as "rophies," "roofies," and "roach," flunitrazepam gained popularity among younger individuals as a "party" drug. It has also been utilized as a "date rape" drug. In this context, flunitrazepam is placed in the alcoholic drink of an unsuspecting victim to incapacitate them and prevent resistance from sexual assault. The victim is frequently unaware of what has happened to them and often does not report the incident to authorities. A number of actions by the manufacturer of this drug and by government agencies have resulted in reducing the availability and abuse of flunitrazepam in the United States.

Benzodiazepines History

It was during the 1930's, when Leo Sternback discovered benzodiazepines while working for the Hoffman-LaRoche Company. However, the first benzodiazepine was not introduced to the general public until 1957, when Hoffman launched Librium©, which is used primarily to relieve anxiety.5 Abuse of benzodiazepines was not specifically addressed until the 1980s, when they became among the most prescribed medications in America.

1 Preventing or reducing anxiety; anti-anxiety.
2 (A) The drug or other substance has a low potential for abuse relative to the drugs or other substances in schedule III.
   (B) The drug or other substance has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
   (C) Abuse of the drug or other substance may lead to limited physical dependence or psychological dependence relative to the drugs or other substances in schedule III.
3 Controlled Substances Act

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