There have been many troubling consequences of the pandemic: massive unemployment rates, government stalling on whether to provide additional stimulus, inability to see family members or travel, over 213,000 deaths in America, and rising rates of anxiety and depression.
Rates of alcohol consumption at the start of quarantine also increased – unsurprisingly given the more time people spent at home. Living alone was a factor, but so was living with a partner who drinks regularly. In an interesting analysis, he discovered a European agency decreased use of stimulants such as cocaine and MDMA in wastewater, which matches self-reported claims. With no late night parties, people started calming down instead of getting excited.
Speaking of tranquilizer, benzodiazepine usage rates (such as Valium and Xanax) are also increasing in both the United States and the United Kingdom. While antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications are only approved for short-term use, rising prescription rates, as well as illicit use, are concerning. In the absence of sanctioned tapering protocols available, the potential for long-term abuse – and chronic side effects – means we’re in dangerous territory with drugs we know very little about.
This news comes in the wake of a FDA announcement that benzodiazepine manufacturers will be required to update the packaging of labels to reflect the potential for abuse and addiction. This includes brand names such as Xanax, Klonopin, Librium, Valium, and Ativan.
Benzodiazepine addiction and withdrawal: how to avoid it
Since the early 1950s, the abuse of tranquilizers and sedatives has been a common but little discussed phenomenon in American society. The first successful drug was Miltown. In 1955, meprobamate, a short-acting derivative of mephenesin, was introduced to the market. Discovered by Czechoslovakian pharmacologist Frank Berger while developing a preservative for penicillin, he noticed that mephenesin calmed rats without knocking them out. In 1950, Berger moved from the UK to Cranbury, New Jersey, where he developed meprobamate together with chemist Bernard John Ludwig. In 1957, one billion pills of this drug, now called Miltown, were produced.
Then the fire went out. In the 1960s, Miltown was reclassified as a sedative. Manufacturers have been sued for monopolizing the tranquilizer market. Eventually the doctors recognized that the risks outweighed the benefits. Miltown drug addicts have flooded treatment centers. Instead of understanding the risks that tranquilizers pose, pharmaceutical manufacturers have simply shifted focus to other drugs, such as benzodiazepines, antipsychotics, SSRIs, and SNRIs.
More problems arise with these pills every decade. Although short-term efficacy is clinically proven (especially when combined with psychotherapy), the underlying risks have long been known and little discussed. As Dr. Harshal Kirane, medical director of Wellbridge Addiction Treatment and Research, he said recently after the FDA announcement,
“Benzodiazepines are not going to be the next big epidemic. They have been a ‘silent’ epidemic for decades, intensifying the aftermath of the current opioid epidemic.”
The FDA’s decision is based on mounting evidence that benzodiazepines are prescribed more frequently and for longer periods than they are approved. This has led to an increase in cases of abuse and misuse.
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As reporter Robert Whitaker told Big Think earlier this year, drug approval regulations are more flexible than many believe. Drug manufacturers, who often sponsor clinical trials for their drugs, only need to prove efficacy versus placebo – how effective does not matter. If a company doesn’t like the result, it can throw the data away and never report it. Then there is the chronic use. “We also don’t measure long-term exposure. If you look at Xanax, it doesn’t show any effectiveness after about four weeks. If you take it daily, you really should. But all kinds of people have been on it for two years, three years, five. years, 10 years. We don’t have a mechanism to gauge what happens to people taking these drugs over that period of time. ” , the original trial of Xanax lasted 14 weeks. Eventually, the drug performed lower than placebo. Instead of sending that data, the company only reported four-week data. As of 2017, Xanax was the 21st most prescribed drug in the country, with nearly 26 million written prescriptions, although it only shows efficacy for about a month. Psychiatrist Bechoy Abdelmalak explains the road to addiction: “When you start taking these drugs, the response is very positive, so it becomes difficult for patients to stop them. So patients often take them for many years and, with chronic use, the risk of side effects increases, especially in the elderly. “Overall, about 92 million prescriptions of benzodiazepines were dispensed in America in 2019, with about 50% of patients taking them for two months or more (according to data from the 2018). A label warning is a step in the right direction, but given the growing amount of mental health problems in 2020, we need more protections. The only winner right now is the $ 17 billion antidepressant industry and the burgeoning anxiety market. That money is made for our suffering. Apparently, these drugs create more problems than they solve, and we are all paying the price. – Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His new book is “Hero’s Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy”.