New Jersey has had to deal with some of the worst consequences that were brought by the opioid crisis. As addiction and overdose rates skyrocketed, New Jersey dealt with some of the worst numbers. Many highly populated coastal states are a valuable target for the illicit drug trade, and the overprescription of opioids in New Jersey and the United States also contributed to the demand for illicit recreational drugs. But what about other potentially addictive illicit drugs like benzodiazepines? 

Benzodiazepines aren’t known to cause severe rates of overdose, but they can be extremely addictive when misused or used for too long. Plus, they can be deadly when mixed with some of the most common recreational drugs in New Jersey, including opioids and alcohol. Learn more about benzodiazepine addiction and treatment in New Jersey. 

Benzodiazepines are a class of prescription medications that are used as sedatives and anti-anxiety drugs. They’re used to treat insomnia, sleep disorders, anxiety problems, and muscle spasticity caused by epilepsy. Benzodiazepine drugs include popular brands like Xanax and Valium that are most commonly prescribed for anxiety and panic disorders. 

They work by interacting with a chemical in your brain called gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA). The drug binds to GABA receptors and increases the effectiveness of GABA in the nervous system. GABA slows down nervous system activity, and it’s closely tied to sleep and relaxation. Benzodiazepines can help you calm down, relax, sleep, or release anxious thoughts. 

However, benzodiazepines work in the brain in a way that’s similar to alcohol. Like alcohol, benzodiazepines can be misused as recreational drugs. People may misuse prescriptions, or they might get counterfeit drugs like Xanax from illicit sources. Even regular prescribed benzodiazepine use can cause chemical dependence if you take the drug for too long. Recreational use increases your risk of developing benzodiazepine dependence or addiction. Fake Xanax pills can be mixed with other harmful substances that increase your risk of serious health problems or overdose. 

Benzodiazepine Overdose Symptoms

Benzodiazepines are considered to be safer than other medications like barbiturates during an overdose. Benzodiazepines can cause some uncomfortable symptoms during an overdose, including heavy sedation, loss of motor control, muscle weakness, fatigue, memory loss, cognitive impairment, and other issues. Many of the symptoms may be similar to heavy alcohol intoxication. Though most accidental benzodiazepine overdoses aren’t fatal, it is possible to experience a deadly overdose. 

An accidental overdose can occur when someone that’s taking a prescription takes a second dose too early after taking an initial dose. This can sometimes happen if you take the drug and wake up in a groggy state, thinking you forgot to take it. Recreational use may also lead to accidental overdose. Taking the drug without a prescription or getting the drug from an illicit source may cause you to take a dose that’s too high for you. Benzodiazepine addiction may also increase though chances of experiencing an overdose. 

Very high doses can lead to respiratory depression, which can cause slowed or stopped breathing, brain damage, loss of consciousness, coma, and death. Benzodiazepines are more likely to cause a fatal overdose if they’re mixed with other depressants, alcohol, or opioids.

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms

As a central nervous system depressant, benzodiazepines are in a class of drugs that can be dangerous or life-threatening during withdrawal. Depressant withdrawal can cause uncomfortable symptoms like jitteriness, restlessness, nausea, vomiting, tremors, insomnia, and anxiety. However, if you’ve taken high doses of benzodiazepines for a long time and then quit abruptly, you may experience some severe symptoms of withdrawal. 

Severe depressant withdrawal symptoms can include seizures, severe confusion, panic, heart palpitations, hallucinations, heart attack, and stroke. These life-threatening symptoms can be addressed and avoided with medical treatment. For that reason, it’s important to speak to a doctor before you decide to quit a benzodiazepine cold turkey. 

New Jersey has a significant problem with drug misuse, addiction, and overdose. Along with the rest of the United States, New Jersey was hit hard by the opioid crisis that led to a spike in overdose deaths and addiction rates. Meanwhile, while opioid use problems rose, other drugs continued to be a problem. In New Jersey, there were 2,900 overdose deaths in 2018, and 90% of those involved opioids. However, many drug overdose deaths involve multiple drugs that are taken around the same time. 

Opioids and alcohol are the most common primary drugs of choice among people that seek addiction treatment, with heroin accounting for 39% of treatment admissions and alcohol accounting for 35%. Other opiates accounted for 5% of treatment admissions, while cocaine and marijuana accounted for 6% and 12%, respectively. Finally, other drugs, which include benzodiazepines and other depressant medication accounted for 3% of treatment admissions in New Jersey. 

benzodiazepine treatment new jersey

When thinking about the subject of drugs that threaten public health in New Jersey, most people think about opioids. Alcohol is another common concern for New Jersey and most states in the U.S. However, benzodiazepines are a common prescription that can easily lead to dependence, and they can also combine with commonly misused drugs like alcohol and opioids with deadly results. 

When mixed, benzodiazepines and opioids or alcohol can have a potentiating effect, which means they make each other stronger. Since they each slow down the central nervous system, they can cause intense effects even if you take relatively small doses of each individual drug.

The opioid crisis in New Jersey caused lawmakers to take a closer look at benzodiazepines. In 2018, New Jersey introduced changes to the prescription monitoring program that would require prescription monitoring checks for the prescription of Xanax, Ativan, and other benzodiazepine sedatives. 

Addiction treatment is a complex process that addresses multiple needs that can be related to addiction. Effective treatment will address biological, psychological, and social problems that may be underlying causes or consequences of addiction. When you enter a treatment program, you’ll go through an intake process that can involve medical and psychological evaluations. Since benzodiazepines are depressants, your safety during withdrawal will be a top concern. 

If you’re likely to experience life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, you may go through a high level of care. If you’ve become addicted to benzodiazepines, you’ll need to address the causes and triggers of your addiction to prevent relapse in the future. If you have other co-occurring issues like mental health problems, those can also be addressed in addiction treatment. 

There are four main levels of care in addiction treatment, according to the continuum of care model. They are medically managed inpatient treatment, inpatient or residential services, partial hospitalization or intensive outpatient treatment, and outpatient treatment. You may go through multiple levels of care in addiction treatment and multiple therapy options throughout the course of your treatment plan. 

Is Medical Detox Necessary?

Medical detox falls under the category of medically managed intensive inpatient treatment, which is the highest level of care. Detox is reserved for people that have a significant risk of severe withdrawal, which is common for people that take depressants for a long time or in high doses. Detox may also be helpful to someone that has a medical condition that can be complicated by withdrawal symptoms. Not everyone that’s treated for a substance use disorder that involves a benzodiazepine will need to go through medical detox, but it is an important first step in treatment for many people.

When you enter an addiction treatment program for the first time, you’ll go through an assessment that may involve the use of the ASAM Criteria, a set of six factors that need to be considered when placing someone in the continuum of care. Some factors that may point to the need for medical detox include:

  • A long period of consistent benzodiazepine use
  • Heavy benzodiazepine use
  • Seizures, chest pains, hallucinations, or other serious symptoms
  • Medical conditions that withdrawal could complicate
  • Current benzodiazepine intoxication

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient treatment involves 24-hour medically monitored or clinically managed treatment every day. You’ll receive less hands-on medical care than you did in detox, but you will have medical monitoring to help address or avoid complications. In some cases, depressants can cause some severe symptoms like seizures during the post-acute withdrawal phases that need to be monitored. Inpatient treatment may also include residential treatment for people that have lower-level medical needs but have a poor living environment, like living with someone that still uses drugs. 

Through inpatient treatment, you’ll go through clinical services like one-on-one therapy, group therapy, family therapy, and behavioral therapies. There are also many therapy options that can help specific issues like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), eating disorders, and other problems that may occur alongside addiction. 

Outpatient Treatment

The last two major levels of care in addiction treatment fall under the category of outpatient treatment. Intensive outpatient treatment involves nine or more hours of treatment services each week. It can include partial hospitalization, which involves 20 or more hours of care each week.

Intensive inpatient treatment will involve many of the same therapies you would experience in an inpatient treatment program. However, outpatient treatment services allow you to live at home and receive support and treatment during the day. That means you may encounter challenges to your recovery in the real world that you can receive support for each week. 

The lowest level of care in formal addiction treatment includes outpatient treatment with fewer than nine hours of services each week. This level can be an important transition phase between higher levels of care and complete independence. It can also be a helpful treatment option for people that want to revisit treatment because they’re worried about a relapse.

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