I will begin by saying that we are in a great chemical experiment that began in earnest in the 1950’s within the pharmaceutical industry. This is not to diss the industry as a whole, but to send up a long overdue warning flag. There are a lot of drugs out there. Doctors prescribe them. Patients end up on one drug for a long period and become dependent or addicted to it. Other patients are given different drugs for different things and end up on a combination of them. There are no studies about these practices prior to them being implemented. It’s a total crap shoot – not even an educated guess on the doctor’s part. Yet we patients trust the doctor – who is supposed to have sworn the oath “First do no harm” as part of their entering the medical profession. Well… my experience with some of these drugs has been to ultimately experience harm. I barely escaped their grasp with my life. The combination of benzodiazepines and opiates instead of being a ‘first do no harm’ practice ended up being a nearly deadly one.
There is a lot of talk – finally – about benzodiazepines (also known as ‘benzos’, these days… Ativan, Klonopin, Xanax, Lorazepam, and all their cousins in this family of ‘anti-anxiety’ drugs. They really are made to be taken occasionally – not every day – and for only a two-week period at most. However, these medications are frequently prescribed by doctors for longer periods. These medications are potent and dangerous when prescribed and then taken inappropriately.
Here’s a piece of my story… I got into trouble with chronic pain due to an instability in my spine and subsequent ‘corrective’ surgery. After the surgery, my pain skyrocketed. I was prescribed a benzodiazepine and an opiate. We started with just the opiate but found that I was so reactive to all the pain I was feeling, that we had to add the anti-anxiety drug in order for the opiate to work better. This became ‘the plan’ – for decades. The doctors – and I saw many of them – were all convinced that the ONLY option for treatment was some combination of opiates and benzos. So began my adventure with the benzodiazepine opiate fix – first do no harm trail. It ended up being a trail of misery.
I took these medications as prescribed. After a while, I became even more agitated and my pain grew to become an ever more pressing presence in my life. It was inescapable. The prescriptions continued. The doctors’ rationale was that they wanted to give me the best quality of life they could, and they were convinced that I would be in chronic pain for the rest of my life. It was up to me and my blessedly supportive family to sort out the rest of how I was to live.
Over time, my anxiety grew into outright panic attacks. I became hypervigilant. I was an insomniac. And I had a family and household to manage amidst all of this. It wasn’t just me living by my wits. My son and husband didn’t have much support either – so they did the best they could living by their wits as well. It’s not like you can go get an education on how to live this way, right?
I grew tired… as you can imagine. Yet, I knew there was an answer to this strange puzzle of a life I was living. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I knew it was out there somewhere. I just had to hang on long enough to find it.
I also grew depressed and fell into hopelessness from time to time as the days dragged on into years. There were nights when as I laid in bed waiting to fall asleep, I wondered if I would even wake up the next morning. And some nights I didn’t care if I woke up or not… this is the result of chronic pain and the additional effects of my chronic drug use. Psychosis. Pure and simple. So much for the benzodiazepine opiate fix as a do no harm approach.
In the end, I was blessed to find the answer in the pain management program of Dr. Peter Przekop. He was able to detox me off the opiates and benzos and he was able to help me release the burdens causing the chronic pain in the first place.
The detox off the opiates was rough but short-lived. The detox off the benzos was brutal. My heart stopped along the way… and I was so fortunate to be in a chemical dependency hospital under close supervision when that happened.
It took years for me to clear the physical and emotional fallout that the benzos caused. I am over six years clean now from them and still experience some of the aftereffects of that drug.
Make no mistake – if I had known going into this from the beginning that I would have ended up suffering more because of the benzodiazepine opiate fix – do no harm practice than without it, I would never have agreed to it in the first place. I am not saying that there is no place for these drugs. I am saying that we need a LOT more research and education about them before they get prescribed in such a way as they were prescribed to me.
And by the way, I met many, many other patients in hospital, in doctors’ office waiting rooms, in rehabilitation, and in treatment who had the same prescription combination and very similar, if not more pronounced, reactions to such long-term use. How many of us are there out there – strung out, anxious and panicky, deeply depressed and spiraling into hopelessness and worse? The great pharmaceutical experiment has come at a steep price. And we will continue to pay it if we do not change course.