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Despite risks, tranquilizers widely used


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Despite risks, sedatives called 'benzos' widely used across Canada, experts say


By Alexandra Posadzki, The Canadian Press July 29, 2013


TORONTO - When Shirley was handed a three-month prescription for Ativan, her doctor insisted the popular sedative was just an "innocent little thing" to help her sleep.


But after her doctor yanked her off the drug cold turkey, rather than slowly tapering off the dosage as experts typically recommend, Shirley plunged into a deep withdrawal. Over the next year and a half she was cycled through more than a dozen benzodiazepines and antidepressants, locked up in a psych ward and diagnosed with a slew of mental disorders.


Unable to work or sleep and gripped by a relentless, gnawing fear, Shirley contemplated the most painless way to end her life.


"I had a very decent job, a good family and wonderful kids, and suddenly I just find I want to kill myself," says the 40-year-old Hamilton public servant, who doesn't want her real name used.


"I didn't know how to go on."


Researchers, academics and clinicians have been warning about the dangers of benzodiazepines — pills prescribed for anxiety or as sleeping aids that include such names as Xanax, Valium, clonazepam and Ativan — for decades.


But despite the risks, "benzos" continue to be widely used across Canada — about four million prescriptions are filled annually in Ontario alone — a trend that experts say raises concerns about the way drugs are monitored once they're on the market and the lack of awareness about their potentially fatal side-effects.


Data compiled from Health Canada's public database of adverse drug reactions suggest that four of the most commonly prescribed benzodiazepines — lorazepam, alprazolam, clonazepam and diazepam — have been implicated in nearly 200 deaths in the past decade.


This is likely a conservative number, as experts estimate that only three to five per cent of adverse reactions are reported.



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I am not a medical professional and nothing I say is a medical opinion or meant to be medical advice, please seek a competent and trusted medical professional to consult for all medical decisions.


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