Rhode Island health officials are calling on the Food and Drug Administration to warn consumers about the danger of combining prescription painkillers with anti-anxiety medications. That combination has fueled a rising number of accidental drug overdose deaths.
Rhode Island’s Health Department Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott and Baltimore’s public health chief Dr. Leana Wen have signed a petition asking the FDA to put black box warnings on opioids and benzodiazepines. When combined, the pills can be deadly. Alexander-Scott says the public and doctors could benefit from a reminder.
“Providers/prescribers really are not as aware about this concern. This is relatively new. Certainly wasn’t something that I knew about and both Dr. Leana Wen and myself talk about how commonly doctors, including ourselves, would prescribe both opioids and benzodiazepines.”
Opioids like OxyContin and benzodiazepines like Clonopin can depress breathing, and their combined use has been linked to an increase in drug overdose deaths. More than 40 state, city, and local health officials and researchers have signed the petition.
Alexander-Scott says not enough doctors know about the dangers of this combination.
“Because the public will pay attention to a black box a little bit more than all of the rest of the language that goes along with medications. So using it as an education tool for them will be helpful as well.”
Some concerns have been raised about people avoiding medications they may need because of the warning. But Alexander-Scott says they’re asking for labels that raise awareness without recommending people avoid the drugs completely. Combining opioids and benzodiazepines has led to many accidental overdose deaths in Rhode Island.