Opioids plus depressants prompt FDA warning

More and more, government doctors say they’re finding that people are combining pain and cough medicines that contain opioids with anxiety drugs containg benzodiazepines.  And that, they say, can be deadly.

So, the Food and Drug Administration is now requiring what it calls a Boxed Warning be added the labels on these drugs – it’s the strongest FDA warning.

Opioids are powerful prescription medicines that can help manage pain when other treatments and medicines can’t be taken, or if they’re not able to provide enough pain relief. They include OxyContin, Oxycodone, Codeine and Hydrocodone. Benzodiazepines are widely used to treat conditions including anxiety, insomnia, and seizures.  They include Xanax, Valium, Librium and Ativan.

FDA study reveals troubling trend

An FDA review has found that the growing combined use of opioid medicines with benzodiazepines or other drugs that depress the central nervous system has resulted in serious side effects, including slowed or difficult breathing and deaths. The agency recommends that health care professionals limit prescribing opioid pain medicines with benzodiazepines or other CNS depressants only to patients for whom alternative treatment options are inadequate.

If these medicines are prescribed together, the FDA says, the dosages and duration of each drug should be limited to the minimum possible.

FDA is continuing to evaluate the evidence regarding combined use of benzodiazepines or other CNS depressants with medication-assisted therapy drugs used to treat opioid addiction and dependence. FDA is also evaluating whether labeling changes are needed for other CNS depressants, and will update the public when more information is available. Patents taking opioids with benzodiazepines, other CNS depressant medicines, or alcohol, and caregivers of these patients, should seek medical attention immediately if they or someone they are caring for experiences symptoms of unusual dizziness or lightheadedness, extreme sleepiness, slowed or difficult breathing, or unresponsiveness.



About the Author

Ed Tobias
Ed Tobias brings more than four decades of reporting and news management experience to his work at FairfaxNews. Tobias managed news coverage for Associated Press Radio for over twenty years.  This included coverage of the 9/11 attacks, the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, the death of Princess Diana, the Challenger and Columbia shuttle disasters and national election primaries, conventions and campaigns.  He was part of the team that built AP’s on-line video operation. Prior to joining AP, Tobias was News Director at all-news WTOP in Washington, D.C. He has won two Ohio State Awards for his reporting and producing and he led coverage that won an Edward R. Murrow Award.