RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The World Health Organization (WHO) and scientists at the University of British Columbia, Canada, caution that drugs containing the compound benzodiazepine cause addiction and withdrawal symptoms.
The frequent and indiscriminate use of sleep and anxiety pills poses a greater risk of death than the use of drugs such as cocaine and heroin. The findings are from two studies published in the scientific journal American Journal of Public Health.
According to researchers, there is one component in particular that represents a health hazard: benzodiazepine (BZD). The first study, by the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada, showed that excessive intake of benzodiazepine poses a risk of death 1.86 times higher than the use of illegal drugs.
The survey was conducted with 2802 subjects taking benzodiazepines, who were interviewed twice a year for five and a half years. By the end of the study, 18.8 percent of the individuals in the group had died. The researchers observed that even after isolating other factors, such as illegal drug use and high-risk behaviors, the mortality rate remained high among those who used the compound.
A second study of a smaller part of the same group examined the link between benzodiazepine use and hepatitis C infection, and found that the infection rate was 1.67 times higher among those who used compound-based drugs.
“The interesting thing about these findings is that it is a prescribed drug and people think it is safe. But we’re probably prescribing these drugs excessively and it’s causing damage,” scientist Keith Ahamad told Vancouver Sun.
A report from the World Health Organization (WHO) alerts that benzodiazepine should only be prescribed to treat “severe, incapacitating anxiety or insomnia that cause extreme distress”. It recommends that doctors take into account that the compound causes addiction and withdrawal syndrome – so it should be used in a minimum effective dose and for as little time as possible.