Overdose deaths from sedatives skyrocket

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Overdose deaths in people using sedatives called "benzos" have skyrocketed, according to a new study. Researchers say those deaths account for close to a third of prescription overdose deaths.

A prescription to treat anxiety started Megan McKamy on a 14-year journey with addiction. The drug was clonazepam which is also sold under the brand name Klonopin.

"I had, you know, at the time no idea that it was addictive That wasn't explained to me. It gave me a sense of freedom and relief that nothing really had before," said McKamy.

Over time, she needed more and somehow got more.

"I'd do things like say I lost a bottle or someone stole it or something like that," said McKamy.

Klonopin and other sedatives such as Xanax and Valium make up a class of drugs called benzodiazapines or "benzos". Researchers found a five hundred percent increase in overdose deaths over an 18-year period.

"It's just not -- it's not being recognized," said Don Wells, an administrator with Heartland Center for Behavioral Change.

Wells says "benzo" deaths don't get nearly as much attention as deaths from opioids such as heroin and painkillers, but "benzos" can be just as dangerous.

"A person could just go to sleep, you know, and not wake up," he said.

The risk is especially great if you combine "benzos" with other drugs.

"I'm very lucky to be alive because I mixed 'benzos' with opiates, with pain medication, with alcohol," said McKamy.

The study found deaths skyrocketed as "benzo" prescriptions and the quantity of pills patients were getting rose. Researchers say doctors need to consider alternatives such as talk therapy in people with anxiety problems.

McKamy got treatment for addiction three years ago and says she has not used since. She now works in addiction recovery.

"There's a community of recovery that makes it completely possible," she said.

The research is in the American Journal of Public Health.

If you need help for a drug or alcohol problem, you may call the First Call crisis hotline 24 hours a day at (816) 361-5900.