overdose

Benzodiazepines and Opioids: A Deadly Mixture

benzodiazepinesIf you are misusing opioids or have an opioid use disorder, we cannot stress enough the importance of seeking addiction treatment. The prospects for people struggling with any form of use disorder are not promising without treatment and a program of recovery; however, for those in the grips of an opioid use disorder, the risks are arguably much higher due to the potential for overdose.

It’s nearly impossible to have a discussion about the American opioid addiction epidemic and not bring up overdose death(s). In the last two decades, researchers have seen a disturbingly exponential rise in premature deaths related to prescription painkillers, heroin and synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

Merely saying that the situation is dire could easily be described as an understatement. While some reports show that prescription opioid overdose deaths are decreasing, heroin and fentanyl-related fatalities are anything but and there is little evidence indicating that that will change. What’s more, there is new evidence of another deadly trend, that of polysubstance use involving the simultaneous use of opiates and benzodiazepine medications.

Mixing Opioids and Benzodiazepines is Deadly

Benzodiazepines or “benzos” are sedatives that people take to address anxiety. Common brand-name medications that doctors prescribe to treat anxiety include Valium, Xanax, Ativan, and Klonopin. All benzos carry the risk of dependence and subsequent addiction; and, those who become hooked typically require medical supervision when they stop taking the drugs for reasons owing to harmful withdrawal side effects. Some of the symptoms of withdrawal, such as seizures, can be fatal.

While both opioids and benzodiazepines carry inherent risks individually, when they are taken together it is often a recipe for tragedy. Unfortunately, it is a risk that many Americans are, or were, willing to take! A new study published in JAMA Network Open shows that people combining opioids and benzos are five times more likely to overdose. Thirty-percent of all opioid overdose deaths involve benzodiazepines, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

It is worth pointing out that when doctors began prescribing opioids with less discretion, ultimately resulting in an epidemic, they also adopted a more blasé attitude about benzos. Between 1996 and 2013, the number of prescriptions for drugs like Xanax increased 67 percent, according to AJPH. The New England Journal of Medicine reports that in the first decade and a half of the 21st Century, overdose deaths involving benzos increase nearly eight-fold.

Opioid Use Disorder and Benzodiazepine Treatment

When opioids and benzos are used in conjunction with each other, the result is drug synergism. When the side effects of two drugs individually are similar, when used together they work together to produce even stronger feelings of euphoria which is something that many addicts welcome. However, both the drugs in question also cause respiratory depression on their own, when taken together their effects in slowing breathing are exponentially greater or synergistic.

If you are struggling with an opioid use disorder, abuse benzodiazepine, or use both types of drugs at the same time, Synergy Group Services can assist you in your recovery. Please contact Synergy today to learn more about our programs.

Addiction Figures In The United States

addictionAlcohol and substance use disorder is a disease, a form of mental illness defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the standard classification of mental disorders used by mental health professionals in the U.S). Addiction is not up for debate any longer, people who misuse drugs and alcohol are not morally weak; instead, such people are struggling with a severe mental health disorder that requires treatment.

Synergy Group Services is committed to doing our part to help end the stigma that, for too long, hovers over people with use disorders. Decreasing stigma is perhaps the most effective way to encourage individuals to seek help and lead productive lives in recovery. There are options for people battling drug and alcohol addiction, but if people are fearful of experiencing social repercussions for seeking assistance they are less inclined to reach out for help. It is up to all of to do whatever we can to educate others about the nature of mental illness.

Perhaps the best way to accomplish such a feat it to make sure the general public has a better understanding of the prevalence of addiction in America. Some of our readers may find themselves in awe of the staggering rates of addiction in the U.S., especially the statistics about how few people manage to access care. The figures below are also a clear indication of the fact that a mental health disorder can touch anyone and that practically every family includes a member struggling with addiction.

Addiction Epidemic

addictionOver 20 million Americans suffer from addiction, yet only 1 in 10 receive treatment, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM). Of the 2.3 million Americans battling opioid use disorder in 2015, only 1.4 million people received any kind of treatment (i.e., MAT, detox, residential, or outpatient). Since alcohol is legal in the U.S., people often forget that many misuse it more than any other mind-altering substance. What’s more, alcohol is involved in significantly more premature deaths each year than opioids.

It’s likely that most of our readers have some knowledge about the dangers of prescription opioids and heroin. You have probably heard that 64,000 Americans fell victim to an overdose death in 2016 and that roughly 100 people die of an overdose each day in the U.S. Even though alcohol use and abuse is more pervasive than opioids, many people are not aware of the toll alcohol takes on society. For instance:

  • About half of liver disease deaths in the U.S. involve alcohol misuse.
  • An estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually.
  • Alcohol is the third leading cause of premature death in America.
  • An estimated 15.1 million adults suffer from Alcohol Use Disorder, yet only 1.3 million adults (or less than 10%) received treatment.

The above figures, complements of ASAM, paint a pretty stark picture of alcohol and substance use in the U.S. At this time, the organization is hosting events across the country and online in observance of National Addiction Treatment Week. ASAM hopes to raise awareness about addiction being a disease and spread the message that evidence-based treatments are available. If you would like more information on how to get involved in this most vital task, please click here.

Addiction Treatment

If you are one of the millions of Americans struggling with alcohol or substance use disorder, Synergy Group Services can assist you in finding recovery. Please contact Synergy today to learn more about our programs.

Opioids On College Campuses

opioidsTowards the end of 2017, The New York Times published an article which reveals some alarming opioid statistics. While most people understand that painkillers and heroin affect people from several walks of life and practically every age group, it’s likely that a significant number of individuals are unaware that opioids are also affecting young adults in college. Just because people can get into prestigious schools, doesn’t mean that they are going to make wise decisions. Prescription opioid misuse falls under such a category.

In fact, between 2001 to 2014, data indicates a six-fold increase in opioid use disorder among people under age 25. In roughly the same timeframe, opioid overdose deaths pretty much doubled for the age group. The 2016 Monitoring the Future survey of college students reveals that 7% misused opioids and the number of Blue Cross Blue Shield opioid-related claims has nearly increased twofold in almost a decade.

The author of College Disrupted: The Great Unbundling of Higher Education (2015), Ryan Craig wrote an op-ed recently appearing in Forbes which displays some interesting observations about opioid use disorder and college students. After speaking with experts, like Dr. Andrew Kolodny, co-director of Opioid Policy Research at Brandeis and others working in the field of addiction, he lays out a pretty concerning picture of prescription drugs use at universities across the country.

Schools Must Confront Opioids

Craig points out that while most colleges have naloxone on campus for use in the event of an overdose, he says that schools are falling short in addressing the underlying issues. He presents “four fundamental elements of college campuses make them suboptimal environments for those struggling with opioids:”

  1. An anything-goes approach to alcohol and drugs;
  2. high pressure;
  3. lack of structure;
  4. they’re in this environment for at least four years.

Despite the fact that a number of 4-year schools offer students the option of living in sober dorms and some even provide counseling services, Craig believes that such programs don’t go far enough. The author says college programs for people in recovery don’t treat addiction and students spend the majority of their time outside the specialty dorms; he has concluded that if universities are serious about assisting people living with addiction, they must expand their sober programs to include:

  • Medical treatment under medical supervision.
  • Separation from other students and much more structure – tapering off as students demonstrate success.
  • Offer off-ramps leading to good jobs, so students don’t need to spend four years in order to get a win. Most parents of young adults struggling with opioids would trade anything for a clean, employed child; a degree is the least of their concerns. Then provide on-ramps back to degree programs for students who are prepared for the next challenge.

Opioid Use Disorder Treatment

If you are a college student misusing prescription opioids or heroin, Synergy Group Services can assist you in finding recovery. Please contact Synergy today to discuss making recovery a part of your life. We understand that education is of vital importance to you and your family, treatment will provide you with the skills for completing higher education unhindered by drugs and alcohol.

Heroin(e) Documentary Inspires Hope

heroinHuntington, West Virginia, is home to around 50,000 people and has an overdose rate ten times the national average. You may be familiar with the town for personal reasons, or perhaps you’ve seen the documentary “Heroin(e)” on Netflix. With the 90th Academy Awards ceremony this Sunday, maybe you’ll have some time to give the documentary a watch beforehand. “Heroin(e)” is nominated for the best documentary (short subject) Oscar.

Some might call Huntington the epicenter of the American opioid addiction epidemic; maybe the statement is true, what is sure, that the situation in the former industrial town is reflective of much of rural America. The Appalachian region is losing mothers and fathers and sons and daughters at unbelievable scale; it is a reality that “Heroin(e)” director, Elaine McMillion Sheldon (“Hollow,” 2013), would much like to drive home.

The scope and scale of the epidemic have no parallel; solutions hardly seem in sight at this juncture. One of the biggest deterrents to tackling the epidemic is the way most Americans continue to view addiction. The stigma of mental illness is alive and well, it’s a fact that Sheldon understands.

Opioid Epidemic Heroin(es)

The short documentary released last September follows the lives of three women in Huntington; including a fire chief, a drug-court judge, and a street missionary. Sheldon chose the three human subjects for the doc, she tells Business Insider, because the three women treat people battling addiction as “human beings and not as junkies.”

Sheldon, a native West Virginia, wanted to tell a different kind of story about the epidemic—one that places a greater focus on the people trying to help. Plenty of documentaries center on the use and abuse side of the epidemic, “Heroin(e)” shows how selfless individuals are affecting change in their community. Compassion is a powerful tool; it can help alter the course of peoples’ lives for the better. The Peabody Award-winning director said:

“We wanted to try and find a story that was around solutions and the inner-resilience that people have to overcome this problem.”

Sheldon is hopeful that politicians will watch her film and see what real people are going through and shape policy decisions off of reality. Her lengthy interview with Business Insider is worth a full read if you have the time, especially her thoughts about misconceptions surrounding addiction. She concedes that a byproduct of the opioid epidemic is that nobody can see that it is “those people” doing the drugs and ruining their lives; rich and poor, young and old, black or white, rural or metropolitan—all are eligible for addiction and premature death if they don’t get help. Please take a moment to watch the trailer below:


If you are having trouble watching, please click here.

Netflix has made “Heroin(e)” available for educational streaming unlimited. Movie theaters can screen the film as many times as they like as long as they don’t charge admission.

Opioid Use Disorder Treatment

If you are one of the millions of Americans grappling with opioid use disorder, please contact Synergy Group Services. We can help you overcome the cycle of addiction and give you the tools for living a life of lasting addiction recovery.

Fentanyl-linked Memory Loss is Concerning

fentanylThe use and abuse of opioids in the United States is a public health crisis, most Americans are aware of the severe death toll from the use of this class of drugs. So, it’s probably not a surprise the White House renewed a previous order declaring the opioid crisis a public health emergency, before it ran out toward the end of last month. Eric D. Hargan, Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, writes:

As a result of the continued consequences of the opioid crisis affecting our nation, on this date and after consultation with public health officials as necessary, I, Eric D. Hargan, Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, pursuant to the authority vested in me under section 319 of the Public Health Service Act, do hereby renew, effective January 24, 2018, my October 26, 2017, determination that a public health emergency exists nationwide as a result of the consequences of the opioid crisis.

The use of any type of opioid can lead to addiction, or worse, overdose. Around a hundred Americans perish each day from drugs like OxyContin, fentanyl, and heroin; naloxone can reverse an overdose, but that’s not always the case—especially when fentanyl is involved. In a short time, synthetic opioids became one of the greatest threats to the drug using public. Fentanyl is regularly added to heroin to boost potency, but it’s done without the user’s knowledge; it’s an ignorance that often results in fatal overdose.

Fentanyl On The Mind

Synthetic opioids are great at killing pain in medically supervised environments. However, the influx of the drug into the U.S. from Chinese laboratories is a major concern. A report from the Senate shows that manufacturers of the drug in China market it online and use the USPS to get it to civilians in the U.S. Once here, fentanyl is stamped into pills resembling OxyContin or simply mixed into batches of heroin—a drug that requires no assistance in being deadly.

Even when fentanyl use doesn’t result in an overdose death, it can wreak havoc on people’s health. Researchers from West Virginia University warn that there is an association between fentanyl and severe memory loss, according to Health Day. More than a dozen patients exhibited signs of short-term memory loss after using fentanyl alone or with stimulants. Their brain scans showed lesions on the hippocampus, a region of the brain responsible for memory.

“They all have difficulty learning new information, and it’s pretty dense,” said Marc Haut, chair of West Virginia University’s department of behavioral medicine and psychiatry. Every day is pretty much a new day for them, and sometimes within a day they can’t maintain information they’ve learned.”

Haut says it’s possible the patients experienced overdose prior to the symptoms of amnesia arising, the article reports. He points out that such individuals do not recover quickly and may not fully regain their short-term memory.

“We talk a lot about people who don’t survive overdoses, but we aren’t talking about people who survive repeated overdoses and the impact that might have on them and their functioning,” Haut said. “If their memory is really compromised, it’s going to be hard for them to learn a new life that doesn’t involve drugs.”

Opioid Use Disorder Treatment

Painkillers, synthetic opioids, and heroin carry severe risks; if you are addicted to opioids of any kind, please contact Synergy Group Services. We can help you overcome the cycle of addiction and give you the tools for living a life of lasting addiction recovery.

Back to top