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Anti-anxiety medication linked to increase death from overdose

Studies link anti-anxiety medications to an increase in overdose deaths.

“Fatal prescription-drug overdoses in the United States have increased sharply in recent years,” according to The New York Times. “But, while most of the deaths have involved opioid painkillers like oxycodone, a new study suggests that anti-anxiety medications now are playing an outsize role in overdose deaths.”

There are six major types of anxiety: generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder (anxiety attacks), phobia, post-traumatic stress disorder and social anxiety disorder, according to

Roughly 40 million adults suffer from anxiety in the United States, or 18 percent of all adults, according to the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, a nonprofit organization that focuses on mental health research.

Women are the largest demographic to use anti-anxiety medications. Roughly 11 percent of middle aged women aged 45 to 64 used anti-anxiety medication in 2010, as opposed to only 5.7 percent of men, according to Medco Health Solutions, Inc.

“My experience with anxiety would be seeing a lot of my friends, a lot of family members, roommates that have it,” said Jessica Barraick, a junior studying exersice physiology. “Especially social anxiety and just seeing how it effected a lot of their life and debilitated them to the point where they don’t feel comfortable going to church or school, or even performing like simple tasks. They just get really nervous, and they have a hard time completing those things.”

Anti-anxiety prescription rates in the U.S. increased 67 percent from 1996 to 2013, according to The New York Times.

However, death rates from overdosing on benzodiazepines such as Valium and Xanax, which are medications commonly used to treat anxiety, have increased more than fivefold in the United States alone since 1996, according to the Washington Post.

Barraick said she understands why it could be easy to overdose on anti-anxiety medication because sometimes when docotors change the medication they prescribe, they also change the dosage. She said she believed an increase in dosage could easily lead to an accidental overdose.

Over 25,000 people died from prescription drug overdose in 2014, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

“The researchers said they don’t know for sure what caused this increase, but it may have something to do with greater quantities of benzodiazepines being prescribed to patients,” according to the Washington Post. “People may also be taking higher doses of the drugs, taking them for extended periods or getting them from sources other than doctors — all of which can increase the risk of an overdose, (researchers) said.”

Over time, benzodiazepine users become tolerant, meaning they must take more of the medication to reach the same desired effect, according to Psychology Today.

“Although benzodiazepines are prescribed frequently for anxiety, particularly by non-psychiatrists, they are no longer considered to be a first-line treatment for these conditions,” according to Psychology Today. “They reduce anxiety quickly; however, they can cause problems when taken in the long-term and should be used with caution.”

Benzodiazepines were present in roughly 30 percent, or 6,973 of the 22,767, prescription medication overdoses in 2013, according to The New York Times.

“In moderation, anxiety isn’t always a bad thing,” according to “In fact, anxiety can help you stay alert and focused, spur you to action and motivate you to solve problems. But when anxiety is constant or overwhelming, when it interferes with your relationships and activities, it stops being functional — that’s when you’ve crossed the line from normal, productive anxiety into the territory of anxiety disorders.”

Emotional symptoms of anxiety include feeling apprehension, tension, jumpiness, irritability, restlessness, constantly watching for danger, inability to concentrate and expecting the wost, according to

“Being more nervous in front of crowd than normal, so even just having to say a prayer in church, that makes me really nervous,” said Jane Smith (name has been changed), a junior studying health psychology. “So this week in relief society, I was asked if I could give a prayer, but I asked specifically if I could give the opening prayer because I know that I would feel anxious about it during the lesson that I would have to say the end prayer, so I would rather just get it over with.”

Physical symptoms of anxiety include, exhaustion, insomnia, headaches, sweating, muscle tension, heart palpitaions, dizziness, tremors and twitches, according to

Symptoms of a panic attack include feeling consuming panic, loss of control, chest pain or pounding heart, nausea, hot flashes or chills, shortness of breath or choking, hyperventilation and feeling faint, detached or unreal, according to

“Medication can relieve some of the symptoms of anxiety, but it doesn’t cure the underlying problem, and it’s usually not a long-term solution,” according to “Anxiety medications also come with side effects and safety concerns, such as the risk of addiction.”

An anxiety screening test is available to all BYU-Idaho students

Students can also receieve free one-on-one counseling through the BYU-Idaho Counseling Center, which is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Appointments can be made by calling 208-496-9370.

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