Alprazolam and heroin related deaths

March 4, 2013
Alprazolam and heroin related deaths
New research has found the powerful anxiety drug alprazolam has been involved in an increasing number of heroin-related deaths since 2004.

(Medical Xpress)—A powerful anti-anxiety drug has been involved in a rising number of heroin-related deaths (HRDs) in Victoria in recent years, according to new research.

In a paper published in the today, researchers from Monash University called for the prescription and scheduling of the benzodiazepine alprazolam to be examined, after their study uncovered a dramatic increase in the supply of this drug, and detection in a rising rate of HRDs.

The findings come weeks before the Therapeutic Goods Association is due to meet to discuss whether more restrictions should be placed on the availability of benzodiazepines.

Alprazolam is a approved for the short-term treatment of anxiety and in Australia. Alprazolam is not recommended as a firstline treatment for these conditions due to concern about dependence, the potential for its misuse and because non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as , have been found to be more effective.

Highly potent, with rapid onset and offset of action, alprazolam may also be more toxic in overdose than other benzodiazepines - a class of drug taken by to enhance the intoxication effects of , or manage anxiety or .

However, using the Australian Statistics on Medicines and data from Medicare, the researchers calculated that the supply of alprazolam increased by 1426 per cent between 1990 and 2010.

In the same period, there were 2392 HRDs in Victoria, peaking at 362 in 1999 when there was a large supply of heroin. Until 2004, the rate of alprazolam detection in HRDs wavered between 0 and 4.4 per cent (or two deaths), but then rose steadily to 28.1 per cent of HRDs (or 27 deaths) in 2010. 

Lead researcher Angela Rintoul, a Doctor of Public Health candidate in the Monash University School of Public Health and said the research showed that measures to improve the quality of the supply of alprazolam should be implemented.

"Despite being a second-line treatment for anxiety, alprazolam supply has risen dramatically, with a disproportionate increase in the highest - 2mg - dose formulation," Ms Rintoul said.

"A survey of injecting drug users has shown that alprazolam use in this population increased from eight per cent to 69 per cent between 2005 and 2011. More than 80 per cent of this supply was obtained illicitly." 

In addition to its increased involvement in HRDs, alprazolam use by people who inject drugs is associated with amnesia, violent outbursts in otherwise non-violent people, and theft. 

"Measures such as education of health professionals and people who inject drugs, more restrictive scheduling of alprazolam and better monitoring and surveillance should all be considered to improve alprazolam supply and mitigate the associated harm," Ms Rintoul said. 

Explore further: Australians double their antidepressants

Related Stories

Australians double their antidepressants

November 16, 2012

(Medical Xpress)—The use of antidepressants doubled in Australia between 2000 and 2011 and they now account for two out of every three psychotropic medications prescribed, a new study by the University of Sydney reveals.

Australia: Heroin and opioid deaths on the rise

October 10, 2012

A total of 500 Australians aged 15 to 54 died from accidental opioid overdoses in 2008 and preliminary estimates suggest deaths of this nature will be higher again in 2009 and 2010, according to the National Drug and Alcohol ...

AAN releases updated guideline for treating essential tremor

October 19, 2011

The American Academy of Neurology is releasing an updated guideline on how to best treat essential tremor, which is the most common type of tremor disorder and is often confused with other movement disorders such as Parkinson's ...

Prescription overdose rate reaches epidemic levels in NYC

February 3, 2013

The rate of drug overdose from prescription opioids increased seven-fold in New York City over a 16-year period and was concentrated especially among white residents of the city, according to latest research at Columbia University's ...

Recommended for you

Drug against alcoholism works, researchers claim

March 17, 2017

French researchers provided fresh evidence Friday to support claims that a drug touted as a miracle cure for alcoholism, and prescribed for this purpose in France, actually works.

Should parents give their children alcohol?

March 10, 2017

Children and teens who are given alcohol by their parents are twice as likely to be drinking full serves of alcohol by age 15 or 16, but are much less likely to binge drink, a UNSW study shows.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Mar 04, 2013

ban the LEGAL druge because it's having negative reactions with an ILLEGAL drug?!



if people are taking the ILLEGAL drug, it is not the LEGAL drug manufacturer's fault if they die or have other negative issues...


Next we'll ban ibuprophen because people die if they take ibuprophen and then ingest rat poison...

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.