FDA Orders Black Box Warning About Overdose Risks for Patients Taking Opioid Painkillers and Benzodiazepines
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FDA Orders Black Box Warning About Overdose Risks for Patients Taking Opioid Painkillers and Benzodiazepines

The Food and Drug Administration issued a warning that patients taking opioid painkillers together with a class of anti-anxiety medications known as benzodiazepines, such as Xanax or Ativan, may be at risk of suffering a combined drug overdose.

The Food and Drug Administration ordered opioid painkiller manufacturers to issue stronger warnings about the risks of using these drugs with a class of anxiety medications known as benzodiazepines. The FDA says that patients who use prescription painkillers together with benzodiazepines may be at risk of suffering a combined drug overdose, which could lead to serious and potentially fatal health  complications.

Under the new FDA warning, more than 400 drugs will carry “black box” warnings about the risk of a combined drug overdose. The warnings will be issued for opioids such as Vicodin and OxyContin, benzodiazepines like Xanax and Ativan, and other medications.

According to the FDA, both opioids and benzodiazepines are central nervous system depressant medications. When taken in combination, multiple CNS depressant drugs can have a combined effect on the nervous system that is greater than each drug’s effect when taken alone. This combined CNS depressant effect can lead to slow breathing, extreme sleepiness, respiratory depression, coma, or death.

The FDA says that it issued the warning about the risks of a combined drug overdose for patients taking opioids and benzodiazepines in response to data that shows that doctors are prescribing these drugs in combination with greater frequency in recent years. According to the agency, between 2002 and 2014, the number of patients taking both opioids and benzodiazepines in the U.S. increased by about 41% -- or about 2.5 million patients nationwide. The FDA says that because of this increase, the number of patients who have suffered a combined drug overdose from the CNS depressant effects of these drugs has skyrocketed.

The FDA’s warnings about the risks of opioids and benzodiazepines were part of the agency’s Opioids Action Plan, which is designed to reduce the number of overdose cases linked to the use of prescription painkillers. In recent years, the number of deaths in the U.S. caused by opioid painkillers has climbed alarmingly. The CDC estimates that about 14,000 U.S. patients died in 2014 from opioid painkillers that were prescribed by a doctor.

Opioid Overdose Victims Have Legal Rights

The aggressive marketing of opioid painkillers by the pharmaceutical industry has played a key role in America’s epidemic of opioid painkiller overdoses. In addition to the thousands who are killed each year by opioid overdoses, thousands more suffer from abuse or addiction caused by prescription painkillers.

Poor prescribing practices by some doctors who give these drugs to patients has also played a role in the opioid epidemic. When doctors or pharmacists fail to follow proper medical procedures in prescribing opioids to their patients, serious and potentially deadly health consequences can result. Thousands of patients are injured each year as a result of drug interactions involving negligence on the part of physicians, medical personnel, or pharmacy staff played.

If you or a loved one has been injured by the combined effects of two or more prescription medications, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit against the manufacturers of the drugs, or the doctor who prescribed the medication that caused your injuries. The first step in filing a lawsuit against a doctor, pharmacist, or hospital is to speak with a law firm that has the experience in personal injury and medical malpractice litigation to handle your case from start to finish.

Jim Orr focuses his practice on complex business litigation and life-altering personal injury matters. During his career, he has represented plaintiffs and defendants in a variety of civil litigation matters in over 30 different states. As a true trial attorney, Jim has tried over 75 cases to a jury verdict. He is Board Certified in Civil Trial Advocacy and Personal Injury Trial Law.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.
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