Addiction & Substance Overuse

Mixing “Benzos” with Opiates Will Cause a Drug Pandemic in America

Leading Addiction Medicine expert Dr. Indra Cidambi, Medical Director at Center for Network Therapy, has highlighted a steep climb in the number of people taking highly addictive opiates (Morphine, Oxycodone, Heroin) while simultaneously using benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, Klonopin).

The concurrent drug abuse resulted in a 570% increase in the number of people admitted for co-abuse of benzodiazepines and narcotic pain relievers (opiates) from 2000 to 2010, according to National Institute of Health/NCBI data analyzed by Dr. Cidambi. Data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse also revealed benzodiazepine overdose deaths rose at a greater rate, 2001-2014, as compared to opiates: 13% vs. 11% (although the absolute number of deaths from benzodiazepine overdose was far lower).

According to Dr. Cidambi, people are simultaneously abusing benzodiazepines and opiates because they are trying to “spike the high” as their body builds up tolerance to one or the other drug. Another possibility for this rapid rise in simultaneous substance abuse is that doctors are not educating patients on the dangers of using the drugs at the same time. “Patients will get a prescription for an opioid painkiller from one doctor, then receive a benzodiazepine prescription from another. These patients ore often times not informed of how dangerous it is to take the drugs together,” said Dr. Cidambi.

“We need an effective way to stop this trend of increasing benzodiazepine abuse. I believe that unless we do something immediately, our country is on the brink of escalating the national drug epidemic into a pandemic,” said Dr. Cidambi. “Patients abusing opiates and benzos will go through a more complicated medical detoxification process since they have to be detoxed off of two substances simultaneously This also makes recovery more challenging for patients because they have to deal with residual withdrawal symptoms and/or cravings from two substances. Additionally, public policy initiatives such as Narcan deployment (to reverse opiate overdose) could be rendered far less effective.”Here are Dr. Cidambi’s three recommendations to stop, and potentially reverse, this deadly trend:

  1. Doctors who prescribe opiates or benzodiazepines to patients dealing with pain (non-cancerous) and anxiety respectively should design short-term treatment plans. After a pre-determined period of time, in many cases 90 days, physicians should transition to alternate, non-addictive medications.
  2. State level prescription databases should be replaced with a national database for doctors and pharmacists to verify patients’ medication history, as some individuals abusing these medications obtain and fill prescriptions across state lines.
  3. Complementary treatment, such as physical/rehabilitation therapy for pain and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for anxiety should be coupled with non-addictive medications. Alternate treatments such as massage, acupuncture and relaxation therapies such as meditation should be used as they can help patients dealing with pain or anxiety.

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Sources of information:

(1)   National Institute of Health/NCBI: Risks, Management, and Monitoring of Combination Opioid, Benzodiazepines, and/or Alcohol Use- July 2013.


(2)   National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): Overdose Death Rates – Revised December 2015.


(3)   National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) Paper.


Indra Cidambi, M.D., Medical Director, Center for Network Therapy, is recognized as a leading expert and pioneer in the field of Addiction Medicine. Under her leadership the Center for Network Therapy started New Jersey’s first state licensed Ambulatory (Outpatient) Detoxification program for all substances nearly three years ago. Dr. Cidambi is Board Certified in General Psychiatry and double Board Certified in Addiction Medicine (ABAM, ABPN). She is fluent in five languages, including Russian.

Center for Network Therapy (CNT) was the first facility in New Jersey to be licensed to provide Ambulatory (Outpatient) Detoxification Services for all substances of abuse – alcohol, anesthetics, benzodiazepines, opiates and other substances of abuse. Led by a Board Certified Addiction Psychiatrist, Indra Cidambi, M.D., experienced physicians and nurses closely monitor each patient’s progress. With CNT’s superior client care and high quality treatment, Dr. Cidambi and her clinical team have successfully detoxed over 600 patients in nearly three years.

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