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When Christy Huff developed a painful eye problem that led to insomnia, her doctor had a common solution – Xanax. She took the medication as directed.
A pill in the night offered her some relief, but soon she began to experience anxiety, agony, and shock. Then Huff had a frightening realization. When she was away from the Xanax, she went through the withdrawal. And when she was there, "it all melted away," she said.
In just three weeks, her body was dependent on Xanax.
"I do not remember getting any warnings from doctors about addictions or addictions," said Huff, a cardiologist, to NBC News. "I was completely shocked by how sick I was."
Xanax is part of a class of medicines called benzodiazepines, sometimes called "benzos" for short. Benzodiazepines are tranquilizers that are mainly used to treat anxiety and insomnia. The drugs also include Valium, Ativan and Klonopin.
Dr. Anna Lembke, director of addiction medicine at the Stanford University Medical Center, said complications from benzos, such as dependence and addiction, are leading to a hidden epidemic similar to the opioid crisis.
"Medical students, residents, and even doctors in the field do not recognize the addictive potential of benzodiazepines," she told NBC News. "There's all this attention to opioids, but very little focus on benzodiazepines and yet people are dying on them."
According to data from the National Institute for Drug Abuse, there were 8,791 overdose deaths with benzos in 2015, as of 1999 when there were 1,135 benzos overdose deaths. At about the same time, adult-imposed benzo-occupational regimens increased 67 percent and reached 13.5 million in 2013, according to the Institute.
Awareness of the dangers of benzos is much lower, perhaps because of the opioid crisis. Opioids, including prescription opioids, heroin and fentanyl, killed more than 42,000 people in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Lembke says caution should be exercised when prescribing Benzos
"One of the silver medications Opioids have shown that the medical community has recognized that we need doctors to better understand opioids and their risks," Lembke said, "but we still do not do that for benzodiazepines."
She explained that benzos work so well for anxiety and insomnia and that patients respond immediately, so doctors quickly prescribe them. But patients can quickly develop a tolerance that leads to ever-increasing doses and painful withdrawal symptoms between doses. Long-term use can even cause neurological damage, Lembke said.
Benzos are extremely hard to kick, she said. For some of their patients, it is easier to leave opioids. Benzos can be particularly dangerous when combined with opioids, which is not uncommon and can almost quadruple the risk of overdose.
Huff has been working for nearly three years to kick Benzos.
When she first recognized her addiction, Doctor did not take her seriously.
"She said," This is all just scared, "Huff said of her doctor," You can mitigate it in three weeks, but honestly I think you can just catch a cold. "
Than She tried to stop Xanax, she had severe symptoms, she could not sleep more than three hours at night, she had difficulty eating and swallowing and lost nearly 20 pounds.Lembke said that stopping Benzos Cold Turkey seizures and even death
I've been seeing so many patients online who have been harmed by these drugs just by taking them as prescribed by their doctor and never being told about the possible consequences they have suffered.
In some online research, Huff realized that she was starting to leak out, and she is experiencing a phase of increasing symptoms as she lowers her dose, but is slowly making progress.
As Huff of Ben zos, she had already stopped practicing medicine to look after her little daughter Kathryn. The first year that Huff was ill was her daughter's last pre-school year. She had time to spend time with her daughter before going to kindergarten, like the zoo and the park. Instead, she had to stay home and rest while a nanny brought out her daughter.
"There is a lot of anger," Huff said. "It's bad enough that I'm suffering this way, but not fully participating in the life of my daughter, that's just the ultimate insult."
Huff hopes to get her out of business in another year What worries her is long-term damage. She is now struggling with memory and fatigue – forgetting simple tasks of using her contact lenses in the morning.
Lembke points out that the fading away can take time. As the doses get smaller, the percentage of drugs that are taken off is larger, so the withdrawal symptoms can be more intense.
Today, Huff tries to sound the alarm so that others do not end up in the same situation. She heads a nonprofit organization, the Benzodiazepine Information Coalition. His mission is to educate both doctors and patients on what it means to be prescribed benzodiazepines.
"I really want the world to know that this is a huge problem," Huff said. "I've met so many patients online that have been harmed by these drugs by just taking them as prescribed by their doctor and they have never been told about the possible consequences."
Lembke offered the patient the following advice:
- Ask your doctor about the risks before taking Benzos. Ask if there are other treatment options, such as antidepressants or cognitive behavioral therapy.
- Benzos should be used as a short-term and intermittent treatment. Avoid long-term use.
- Never stop taking Benzos. Talk to a doctor about a plan to rejuvenate over time.
- Tell your doctor what other medicines you are taking and ask if you can take the medicines together.
- Parents should be aware that some Benzos can be purchased online You should talk to your teens about the dangers and look for mysterious packages and precision balances that measure doses. Even tiny doses can be deadly.
Lembke hopes physicians will be better informed later, but for now, it is up to the patient to be aware of these concerns.