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In March, we reported that long-term use of a class of prescription painkillers known as opioids, such as oxycodone (Oxycontin), comes with the risk of dependence, addiction, falls, and even death. Now, a study published March 14, 2017, in The BMJ finds that opioid users who also take a benzodiazepine — such as alprazolam (Xanax) — for sleep or anxiety are more likely to end up in an emergency room. Researchers made the connection after looking at a sample of more than 300,000 privately insured adults (ages 18 to 64) over a 12-year period. People who were prescribed both types of drugs had twice the risk of ending up in a hospital as did people who used opioids only.
The study is observational and does not prove that using both medications increases overdose risk. However, the authors say we already know that about 30% of deadly opioid overdoses involve benzodiazepines in some way. Researchers suggest that opioids should be prescribed cautiously — even if only for a short-term course — among people who are also using benzodiazepines.