Referring to Klonopin, rock icon Stevie Nicks said, “it nearly ruined my life and nearly killed me... it's a horrible, dangerous drug....[Withdrawing from it felt like] somebody opened up a door and pushed me into hell.”
By Kelly Patricia O’Meara
March 8, 2016
A number of studies published in recent months reinforce the serious, and even life-threatening, long-term adverse effects associated with using the commonly prescribed psychiatric anti-anxiety drugs, benzodiazepines. Known to users by their trade names like Xanax, Valium, Ativan and Klonopin, the anti-anxiety medications can lead to, among other things, cognitive (memory loss) problems, addiction and death.
The new data provided in recent research do not address the personal hell that many experience while on, or withdrawing from, benzodiazepines, which is well-described by rock icon Stevie Nicks. Nicks, who beat a cocaine addiction, fell into the “benzo” trap after friends convinced her to seek psychiatric help to stay clean.
Nicks did not mince words when describing her experience with “benzo treatment.” The drug, said Nicks, “nearly ruined my life and nearly killed me” and “it’s a horrible, dangerous drug.” In recounting her withdrawal from Klonopin, Nicks said it felt like “somebody opened up a door and pushed me into hell.” Nicks survived to tell her benzodiazepine story, but according to new research, Nicks and tens-of-millions of others may be dealing with the adverse reactions to “benzos” for years to come.
According to a recent study, “The Benzodiazepine-Dementia Disorders Link: Current State of Knowledge,” published in CNS Drugs, “Eleven studies have been published so far concerning benzodiazepine use and of the risk of dementia disorders; nine of these studies concluded these drugs have a deleterious effect….” In other words, benzodiazepines increase the risk of for dementia.
The research supports a 2014 study published in the British Medical Journal, “Benzodiazepine use and risk of Alzheimer’s disease: case-control study,” in which the authors report that use of Benzodiazepines was associated with a 51% increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. This risk increased with longer exposure, with an 84% increased chance of Alzheimer’s when taking benzodiazepines for more than 6 months.
But Alzheimer’s and related dementias are not the only reported downside to benzodiazepine use. A February 2016 article published in the American Journal of Public Health, “Increasing Benzodiazepine Prescriptions and Overdose Mortality in the United States, 1996-2013,” concluded that the use of benzodiazepines and overdose deaths have increased considerably and recommended that “interventions to reduce the use of benzodiazepines or improve their safety are needed.”
The above researchers examined data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey and multiple-cause-of-death data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and found that between 1996-2013 the number of adults filling prescriptions for these drugs had risen from 8.1 million to 13.5 million (67%) and the quantity of benzodiazepines disbursed had more than tripled.
The data further revealed that not only were the number of pills per prescription increased but that the median quantity filled over the course of a year increased 140%. In 2013, alone, an estimated 22,767 people died of an overdose involving prescription drugs in the United States and benzodiazepines were involved in approximately 31% of these fatal overdoses.
While these recent studies highlight up-to-date data regarding the serious and life-threatening adverse effects of benzodiazepines, the grim possible outcomes associated with long-term use (more than 120 days) is not new. For example, as far back as 1982 information was provided during a secret meeting of the Medical Research Council (MRC) in the United Kingdom, implicating benzodiazepines with brain atrophy.
The research provided to the MRC was conducted by Malcolm Lader, now emeritus Professor of the Institute of Psychiatry, and, although the study was admittedly small-scale, it showed brain shrinkage occurred in some Benzodiazepine patients. At the time, the MRC accepted recommendations for conducting larger, long-term studies, but failed to follow through.
Thirty years later these initial studies appear to hold up to scrutiny and researchers continue to report on the devastating adverse effects associated with benzodiazepines. Since that time, there have been 25 warnings from six countries (United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Germany) warning that anti-anxiety drugs cause harmful side effects, including cognitive impairment, amnesia, depression, hallucinations and delusional thinking, abnormal behavior, suicide risks or attempts, violence, hostility and agitation to name a few.
Despite the known adverse effects associated with benzodiazepines, according to data extracted from IMS, Vector One: National (VONA) and Total Patient Tracker Database for 2013, the prescribing of anti-anxiety drugs, which includes benzodiazepines, is at epidemic levels. In 2013, more than 36 million Americans had been prescribed anti-anxiety drugs, including 727,304 0-5 year olds, more than three million 6-24 year olds and over 30 million 25-65+ years. Over 20 million Americans were specifically taking benzodiazepines in 2013.
With over 20 million Americans having been prescribed benzodiazepines, it makes perfect sense that there are nearly 500,000 websites available on the worldwide web for those seeking information for “Benzodiazepine withdrawal help.” The nagging question, though, and one researcher’s seem focused on, is once withdrawal is achieved, what are the long-term effects of the psychiatric drugs.
The recent studies mentioned above, added to the decades of adverse effects already known to be associated with benzodiazepine use, do not elicit confidence that the tens-of-millions-of-users will escape what now appear to be serious future cognitive challenges.
The recommendation provided by the authors of the December 2015 research that “interventions to reduce the use of benzodiazepines or improve their safety are needed” is one way to go, but given that decades of research continue to expose the devastating long-term effects of benzodiazepines, perhaps it’s time to seriously consider, as a public safety service, simply withdrawing the drugs from the market.
Kelly Patricia O’Meara is an award-winning former investigative reporter for the Washington Times’ Insight Magazine, penning dozens of articles exposing the fraud of psychiatric diagnosis and the dangers of the psychiatric drugs—including her ground-breaking 1999 cover story, “Guns & Doses,” exposing the link between psychiatric drugs and acts of senseless violence. She is also the author of the highly acclaimed book, Psyched Out: How Psychiatry Sells Mental Illness and Pushes Pills that Kill. Prior to working as an investigative journalist, O’Meara spent sixteen years on Capitol Hill as a congressional staffer to four Members of Congress. She holds a B.S. in Political Science from the University of Maryland.
 Sophie Billioti de Gage, PhD student, et al., “Benzodiazepine use and risk of Alzheimer’s disease: case-control study,” BMJ 2014; 349, (Published 09 September 2014) http://www.bmj.com/content/349/bmj.g5205.
 Marcus A. Bachhuber, MD, MSHP, et al., “Increasing Benzodiazepine Prescriptions and Overdose Mortality in the United States, 1996–2013,” American Journal of Public Health, February 18, 2016, http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/pdf/10.2105/AJPH.2016.303061.
 Nina Lakhani, “Drugs linked to brain damage 30 years ago,” The Independent, 6 Nov 2010, http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/drugs-linked-to-brain-damage-30-years-ago-2127504.html