The prescription drug Xanax
Abuse of prescription drugs like Xanax is still rampant. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Illegal drug use has been a focus of law enforcement for decades, but abuse of completely legal drugs is by far more common. Abuse of prescription drugs has sharply increased over the past two decades and shows no signs of slowing.

Anti-psychotic medication the latest raging addiction

A recent article in the New York Times describes a mental health clinic in Kentucky that has problems with patients becoming dependent on Xanax, an anti-anxiety medication. The clinic is part of the Seven Counties Services chain of non-profit mental health clinics in Kentucky. Too many patients were requesting the drug repeatedly, so Seven Counties clinic doctors stopped prescribing alprazolam, the generic version of Xanax, in April. Xanax is the Pfizer brand-name for alprazolam. The clinic plans to wean all patients off alprazolam by next year.

Alprazolam is a benzodiazepine, a class of sedatives that includes drugs such as diazepam and lorezepam, according to Wikipedia. Other brand name benzodiapenies include Valium and Ativan, brand-name versions of diazepam and lorezepam, respectively. According to the New York Times, the Centers for Disease Control found the number of people admitted to emergency rooms due to non-medical use of benzodiazepines increased by 89 percent between 2004 and 2008.

Dangerous legal drugs

According to, website for the Coachella/Palm Springs, Cal., area Desert Star newspaper, the CDC reported 27,000 deaths from prescription drug overdoses in 2007. According to the Centers for Disease Control, opioid painkillers are responsible for more overdose deaths than heroin and cocaine combined.

A 2010 study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found a 65 percent increase in the number of hospital admissions due to poisoning from tranquilizers, sedatives and opioid painkillers between 1999 and 2006, according to Reuters. The study also looked at unintentional poisonings, also called overdoses, of opioid painkillers such as OxyContin, as well as tranquilizers and sedatives, such as Xanax, Valium and Ativan.

Hospitalizations for accidental overdoses of those three classes of medication increased by 37 percent in that period. Intentional overdoses, including suicide attempts and substance abuse, more than doubled from the 10,000 cases observed in 1999 to 24,000 in 2006. People between the ages of 35 to 54 have been more likely to die from unintentional poisoning than car crashes since 2005, among deaths by unintentional injury.

The 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimated that at least 7 million people age 12 and over use prescription drugs for non-medical purposes.

Driving while prescribed

Driving while on prescription drugs can be dangerous. In Florida, the number of car crashes involving people impaired by prescription drugs has been increasing since 2005, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. The most common drug taken by a prescription drug-impaired driver in a crash was Xanax, followed by oxycodone. Florida, according to Reuters, is widely considered the prescription drug-abuse “epicenter” of the United States.

Ellen Roberts, an Assistant Florida State Attorney, reported seeing few valid prescriptions among people she prosecuted for prescription drug-related car crashes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is currently studying what guidelines should be implemented regarding prescription drug use and safe driving.


New York Times:

Wikipedia on Benzodiazepines:

Centers For Disease Control:


National Survey on Drug Use and Health:

South Florida Sun-Sentinel:


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