TRENTON, NJ — A recent article published in the New England Journal of Medicine highlighted a looming threat to public health that has largely gone unnoticed within the larger drug crisis. Benzodiazepines, a subset of prescription drugs used to treat anxiety, insomnia, seizures and alcohol withdrawal, can become highly addictive, as the number of adults being prescribed these drugs has increased 67 percent between 1996 and 2013.

Benzodiazepines, which include drugs such as Xanax and Klonopin, have been growing in usage over the last two decades, but information pertaining to their addictive qualities and difficulties associated with withdrawal hasn’t spread nearly as quickly.  

Assemblyman Sean Kean (R-Monmouth/Ocean) was notified of this issue when a constituent contacted him to share her own struggle with being prescribed Benzodiazepines more than 20 years ago as a sleep aid. After a prolonged period of use that went uninterrupted by her physicians, she now faces debilitating physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms.

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“Ensuring patients know the risks of benzodiazepines before they fill their first prescription and establishing protocols for practitioners to follow during a patient’s withdrawal will help minimize problems with benzodiazepines,” said, whose district represents Belmar and Lake Como.

His bill, A4760, establishes a framework for when benzodiazepines should be prescribed and encourages the use of effective methods to safely taper the patient off the drug to avoid long-term addiction.

The bill also requires that patients be informed of the potentially serious side effects of the drug, with informational pamphlets being distributed at doctors’ offices and pharmacies when benzodiazepines are prescribed and bold labeling written on the prescription bottle itself to warn of the dangers of extended use.

Despite the dangers, benzodiazepine prescriptions have increased 67 percent between 1996 and 2013 and overdose deaths involving benzodiazepines have quadrupled between 2003 and 2015.

Kean concluded, “We need to ensure that these commonly used drugs are being prescribed properly and safely with a blueprint for a patient to effectively end usage of the drug without enduring terrible consequences.”

Assembly bill 4760 was introduced on December 6, 2018 and was referred to the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee where it awaits consideration.

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