Benzos: more dangerous than the conditions they treat?

Benzodiazepines may be the most dangerous drugs in the world. Benzos, as they’re commonly called, were introduced as anti-seizure medications in the mid-1970s. One of them—Klonopin—has since become the drug of choice for millions, second only to OxyContin or opiods in general.

Benzodiazepines are frequently prescribed in the US, with 100 million prescriptions written in 1999, according to the DEA.  Benzodiazepines mimic the action of a substance [GABA] that occurs naturally in the brain, whose effect is to quiet or tranquilize the body.  In fact, 40 percent of human brain cells respond to GABA. The long term use of benzodiazepines produces both dependence and tolerance, which cause the naturally occurring chemicals in the brain to lose their potency and become ineffective. Withdrawing suddenly is therefore risky, because the body has lost its ability to quiet itself in situations of panic or anxieties that naturally arise, even in safe settings. Withdrawal can include extreme anxiety, paranoia and agoraphobia and can be quite long lasting.

The effects of benzodiazepines have caused some to label drugs, such as Kllonopin, “the most dangerous drug in the world.” Since its original introduction as an anti-seizure medication in the mid-1970s, klonopin has become the drug of choice for millions, second only to OxyContin or opioids in general.

Singer Stevie Nicks has publicized the dangers of Klonopin by describing her own detox from the prescription drug as “hellish” and worse than withdrawing from cocaine or heroin. In fact, Nicks was introduced to Klonopin at The Betty Ford clinic, with the intention of assisting her with new-found sobriety! Recovering addicts and alcoholics have all too often been helped off of one drug addiction by being introduced to a new one, all with the best of intentions, of course.

Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have died as a result of potent drug cocktails prescribed to them by the Veterans Administration, which included benzodiazepines. Anna Nicole Smith and Mariel Hemingway both were found to have multiple drugs in their systems at time of death, including benzodiazepines. Emergency rooms now see three times as many visits for benzodiazepine related problems – eclipsing heroin and cocaine.

Treatment with benzodiazepines is clearly recommended for short term use only – dependence can form in as little as two weeks. In addition, there is a great danger of drug interactions being fatal.

So why is it  commonly prescribed for extended time periods? Psychotropic drugs represent a huge profit center for big pharma, running into the billions of dollars for the industry every year. This provides an incredible incentive for drug companies to “push the envelope” when drug sales representatives are presenting their products to the medical and psychiatric professions. Representatives of pharmaceutical companies frequently downplay potential dangers of particular drugs, while emphasizing what a marvelous job they can do for patients. Americans can surely trust their MDs and psychiatric professionals to take into account the fact that they are being exposed to sales pitches from commissioned sales persons.

Trusting in the discretion of professionals gets called into question when you take into account that pharmaceutical corporations purchase favorable articles in professional journals. The editor of one of the most respected medical journals, “The Lancet”, has publicly stated that science journals are being co-opted by drug companies pushing their drugs. When peer-reviewed journals cease to be a reliable source of information for professionals, patients are placed in danger by the very system that is supposed to “first, do no harm”.

The situation described in this article is yet another example of corporate greed run amok. The simple fact  is that while some industries exist to perform necessary functions, they not be run simply to provide a good “return on investment” for stockholders. The story of powerful and wealthy corporations that buy their way into further profits through lobbying and campaign contributions is becoming so commonplace that it is difficult to pique the interest of the general public. The story of the dangers of Klonopin and other benzodiazepines demonstrates that the public grows cynical at the risk of its own health and very life.