Concerned Clinics Kick Out Xanax

By Jed Bickman 09/15/11

Some doctors are taking drastic action to protect patients from the dangers of prescription drugs, which cause more US deaths than crack and heroin.

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Although the biggest prescription drug menaces are opiate painkillers like Oxycontin, anti-anxiety benzodiazepines like Xanax and Klonopin are nipping at Oxy's heels. Both classes of sedatives are extremely addictive, and the danger is compounded when you mix them—as many painkillers addicts do, adding a benzo to cut the screeching anxiety associated with withdrawal when getting clean or when the opiate supply runs dry. The White House has said “prescription drug abuse is the nation’s fastest-growing drug problem,” and its report points out that people are dying of prescription drug overdoses at rates that exceed the 80s crack epidemic and the 70s heroin crisis combined. Experts have lauded the focus the Obama administration has fixed on the problem, but are less keen on what they consider a sluggish response. Action at the state level has been even spottier; many states have not even instituted databases to monitor prescriptions. Left to come up with their own solutions, many communities and local clinics are left to their own devices. As the New York Times reports, clinics are experimenting with a ban on Xanax, refusing to prescribe the top-selling benzo. Nonprofits like NOPE have also stepped in, advocating stricter controls of addictive drugs and educating patients about responsible use. Stevie Nicks has become the poster girl for the dangers of benzos, speaking out against the drugs in virtually every interview she gives; after a doctor prescribed her Klonopin to help her kick her cocaine habit, Nicks developed a decade-long klonopin kick. She says that getting clean from it was like “somebody opened up a door and pushed me into hell.” In 2008, Winona Ryder collapsed on an airplane from an overdose of Xanax. The growing trend among clinics to cut off Xanax prescriptions has been praised by public health officials as a “noble idea” and an “experiment.” Big Pharma is less pleased, of course, because these pills rake in hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Whether the ban will catch on—or be anything like enough to stem the tide—remains to be seen.

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Jed Bickman is a journalist and copywriter living in the greater New York City area. He is the associate editor at The New Press. You can find him on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.