Opioids and Benzos – A Deadly Combination

Opioids and Benzos- two highly addictive drugs that can be obtained illegally or with the help of a physician can be a deadly combination when used together.

Opioids

Photo by: Dennis Yip

Opioids are a type of drug that binds to the opioid receptors in the body, reducing pain while increasing a sense of euphoria. Opioids can come in illegal forms such as heroin or fentanyl or they can be prescribed legally by a doctor. These prescription opioids include the popular:

• OxyContin;
• Morphine;
• Vicodin; and
• Codeine.

Opioids by themselves have caused tens of thousands of overdose deaths last year alone. They are highly addictive, quickly leading to dependency. They who are dependent on opioids commonly misuse them in extreme quantities. Misuse or overuse of opioids can result in respiratory distress and death.

Benzodiazepines (Benzos)

Another “feel good sedative”, Benzodiazepines are “a type of prescription sedative commonly prescribed for anxiety or the help with insomnia“ according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The go on to describe common [benzos] as “Valium, Xanax, and Klonopin.” Just like opioids, benzos can sedate a person too much, decreasing their breathing to dangerous levels. Combined, Opioids and Benzos are too often deadly.

A deadly combination

Photo by: Jason Rogers

On their website, NIH also states “More than 30 percent of overdoses involving opioids also involve benzodiazepines”. With both drugs meant to sedate, it is highly likely that the combined effect of both drugs being used simultaneously can suppress breathing to the point of stopping completely. The respiratory system of users is so relaxed, it forgets to intake oxygen.

Help for those with addictions

Those who know individuals struggling with an opioid addiction, inform them of the dangers of mixing benzos with opioids even under a doctor’s care. Those fighting addiction are encouraged to instead look at “effective medications [that] exist to treat opioid use disorders [such as] methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone.” Loved ones of addicts should consult with a doctor about obtaining the drug naloxone to reverse an overdose should the unthinkable happen when they are present.

Is Using Marijuana For Pain Relief a Safer Alternative Than Opioids?

When someone is battling chronic or acute pain, they are often prescribed addictive opioids when using marijuana for pain relief may be a safer alternative.

Opioid epidemic

6698540291_20f5b96c81_zAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose” and unfortunately, “opioid-involved deaths continue to increase in the United States.” The CDC also stated that “deaths from prescription opioids-drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone-have more than quadrupled since 1999”. This may be due to the fact that “since 1999, the amount of prescription opioids sold in the U.S. nearly quadrupled [even though] there has not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans report.“ So why do doctors continue to mass prescribe dangerously addictive and obviously overused opioids to help their patients manage pain?

Marijuana for pain relief

Opioids continue to be used to handle pain because there isn’t much out there that can replace them….legally. Medical marijuana has been tested repeatedly and consistently proves to be beneficial in reducing discomfort for those individuals who struggle with chronic pain. It is also being studied for use in acute pain episodes with positive results. Even though using marijuana for pain relief has been proven to be a successful alternative option that is natural and far safer than opioids, not all U.S. citizens have access to it since several states still consider marijuana an illegal substance. Some states such as Utah go as far to label it a schedule I drug along with methamphetamine and cocaine.

Marijuana use around the nation

Photo by: Satish Krishnamurthy

Photo by: Satish Krishnamurthy

Over the last several years, 26 states as well as Washington D.C. have come to the realization that marijuana isn’t as dangerous as once believed and has proven qualities in fighting chronic and acute pain. Those 26 states and Washington D.C. have all legalized marijuana for medical use. Seven of those states along with D.C. also allow their residents to use marijuana recreationally, just as all states do with alcohol. When will the other states including Utah get on board and legalize marijuana at least for medical use?

Medical marijuana in Utah

There were two bills regarding medical marijuana that Utah lawmakers were working on but unfortunately, only one bill passed and it doesn’t do anything to help those struggling with pain. House Bill 130 that allows medical marijuana to be researched passed the Utah State Legislature, but marijuana has already been researched for medical use; it is time to give pain sufferers in Utah another option besides prescription opioids. Some Utah residents who are frustrated with Utah lawmakers dragging their feet allowing marijuana for pain relief end up taking matters into their own hands. They may cross state lines to take advantage of neighboring states’ leniency towards marijuana only to be busted once they return to Utah with marijuana in their possession or simply in their system. Their attempt to find something else besides opioids to manage pain may land them in jail.

Criminal penalties

Photo by: Victor

Photo by: Victor

Utah law currently prohibits the possession of marijuana and Utah residents are not even allowed to have it in their system when driving. Marijuana metabolites can stay in the system for up to four weeks which makes it impossible for residents to find relief in other states before driving home to Utah. Possession of less than one ounce of marijuana may result in a fine up to $1,000 and the individual charged being incarcerated for up to 6 months.These same charges apply to driving with a measurable amount of marijuana or metabolite of marijuana in the person’s body. Possession of greater quantities or repeat offense may result in greater charges. This may seem unfair for those using marijuana for pain relief, but it is still Utah law.For more information on criminal charges for using marijuana for pain relief, contact a criminal defense attorney.

Counterfeit Pain Pills More Dangerous Than Originals

Thousands of counterfeit pain pills confiscated during a massive drug bust turned out to be more dangerous that the original prescriptions the bogus pills were imitating.

Distribution of pain pills

Drug bust

Photo by: Bill Brooks

Just a couple days prior to Thanksgiving, a man renting a home in Cottonwood Heights, Utah was arrested for what authorities are calling one of the largest drug busts in Utah’s history. The thousands of pills that 26 year old Aaron Michael Shamo was making and selling daily were being designed to look like popular pain pills such as Percocet and OxyContin, but instead contained an ingredient far more addictive and dangerous than oxycodone – Fentanyl. Detectives believe Shamo had sold and shipped the counterfeit pain pills throughout Utah as well as around the nation over the course of several months. The pain pills containing fentanyl could have reached millions of people over that span of time.

Fentanyl

Fentanyl is referred to as prescription heroin since users feel many of the same effects. The National Institute on Drug Abuse describes fentanyl as “a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent.” Due to this high potency, fentanyl is extremely dangerous and carries a greater risk of death. The CDC  stated that the “DEA describes fentanyl as a powerful narcotic associated with an epidemic of opioid-related overdose deaths in the United States.” By taking black market pain pills without knowing the actual ingredients, an increased number of individuals are likely to overdose. Those who are frequent users of pain pills may receive a high from the counterfeit pain pills containing fentanyl. Others who have a lower tolerance to opioids may suffer respiratory distress and die from a single pill.

Utah’s prescription drug problem was bad enough

pain pillsUtah has a major prescription drug problem. According to the Utah Department of Health, “Every month in Utah, 24 individuals die from prescription drug overdoses. Utah ranked 4th in the U.S. for drug poisoning deaths ( . . .)” They also stated that “59% of deaths from prescription pain medications involved oxycodone”. With so many drug overdoses from oxycodone itself, how many more would die when counterfeit pain pills containing fentanyl are taken instead? The sad reality of Utah’s prescription drug problem is most of the residents who abuse prescription drugs got their start with a legal prescription from a doctor. Unable to fight the opioid’s addictive quality, many of those individuals turn to street drugs or street pills. Instead of receiving the help and rehabilitation they need, they may be getting a deadly dose of fentanyl.

Help on the horizon?

For those who have family or friends who are suffering from addiction, there is hope when a loved one takes one dose to many. Not only did Utah pass the Good Samaritan Law, allowing persons to report an overdose of another without fearing their own prosecution, but there are overdose reversing drugs such as Narcan (nalaxone) that can be prescribed to someone who is close to an addict. Narcan can safely reverse an overdose to heroin or opioids and is responsible for saving over 150 lives so far in Utah alone. Unfortunately however, the overdose reversal drugs are no match for high potency fentanyl, such as the as counterfeit pain pills being distributed in high quantities by Aaron Shamo.

Narcan

Photo by: Peretz Partensky

According to the CDC, “Multiple doses of naloxone [Narcon] may be needed to treat a fentanyl overdose because of its high potency.” If the person administering Narcan to a fentanyl overdose patient or loved one is unaware of the need for additional doses to combat the fentanyl, the victim may still die.

Education and treatment

With so many Utah residents suffering from addiction and dependency on pain pills, it is vital that those afflicted receive the help they need through residential drug treatment facilities. These facilities should be accessible to all either by voluntarily checking themselves in or if facing charges such as possession of schedule II drugs, mandatory treatment should be issued instead of jail time (for where little to no rehabilitation is available). To discuss drug charges and options for treatment, contact a criminal defense attorney. For a list of drug rehabilitation centers throughout Utah, contact the Department of Health.