(NaturalNews) In an age when the nation's healthcare costs are out of control and policymakers are trying to find ways to reduce burdens on an already over-taxed healthcare system, an investigation in New York City has found that abuse of prescription anxiety drugs is rising fast, placing an added load on the city's emergency rooms.
Investigators with NBC's New York affiliate disclosed in a recently broadcast report that abuse of the prescription anti-anxiety drug Xanax, along with others, has prompted a 50-percent rise in E.R. visits among users between 2004 and 2009.
In fact, the abuse has risen so dramatically it has prompted some doctors to rethink the frequency with which they prescribe the medications.
A top prescription drug nationwide
The rise from Xanax and other abuse of benzodiazepines from 38 per 100,000 people to 59 out of 100,000 may not seem like a lot but, experts note, the figures are much more substantial when you consider the extra burden placed on already cramped, encumbered (and expensive) emergency departments, as well as the fact that so much more abuse is occurring within a single class of drugs, and the data becomes much more compelling.
There's more. According to data the investigative team received from the New York City Health Department, benzodiazepines were linked to 30 percent of the city's overdose deaths in 2009 alone, or 3.3 out of 10.9. The team said nearly all of those deaths involved more than one drug, but a benzodiazepine was one of them.
Maybe these figures shouldn't be so surprising. After all, the report said, according to the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, Xanax was the 11th-most prescribed medication nationwide in 2010, the latest year for which figures from the group appear to be available.
Not a long-term solution
The dramatic rise in abuse of this class of drugs clearly has some doctors spooked. For instance, the report said, a psychiatric group in Louisville, Ky., has taken the dramatic step of stopping all Xanax prescriptions, a self-imposed ban adopted a year ago.
One professional, Dr. Scott Hedges, told the investigative team that benzodiazepines work well in acute panic-attack situations but are not the answer for long-term anxiety. For that, he says, more traditional behavioral methods work better.
"The problem is, in terms of longer term treatment, there are really much better treatments that have better outcomes than the use of that short-term medication," he told the NBC I-Team.
The short-term solution makes sense to some recovering Xanax abuses. One of them, known only as "Rob," said he believes his long-term use of the drug made his condition - and his abuse - worse. He said shortly after he began taking the drug, it's half-life - or the time it takes for half the drug to be eliminated from the body - was getting shorter, causing him to increase his dosage.
"It doesn't take long before that doesn't do anything for you and you have to double it or triple it," he said.
Making the mild roar
Emergency Department physicians have said they notice that the effects of some illegal drugs are heightened and intensified when combined with benzodiazepines.
"The Xanax potentially makes it a much worse overdose. It could turn a relatively mild overdose into something that could be fatal," Dr. Jeff Rabrich, director of the Emergency Medicine Department at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan, told the I-Team.
Big Pharma corporation Pfizer, manufacturer of Xanax, dutifully said in a statement that it doesn't condone abuse of its drug. Rather, the medication giant blamed doctors.
"When prescribed and taken as indicated, Xanax has a well-established safety profile and is an important treatment option that has benefited millions of patients," the company said, according to the NBC affiliate.
The problem has been growing for some time.
According to a Chicago Tribune report, more than 638,000 E.R. visits in 2001 were the result of bad reactions to illegal and prescription drugs.
In those cases, 43 percent were caused by prescription drugs, and - you guessed it - Xanax was at the top of that list.