This paper reviews studies examining the pharmacological interactions and epidemiology of the combined use of opioids and benzodiazepines (BZDs). A search of English language publications from 1970 to 2012 was conducted using PubMed and PsycINFO(®). Our search found approximately 200 articles appropriate for inclusion in this paper. While numerous reports indicate that the co-abuse of opioids and BZDs is ubiquitous around the world, the reasons for the co-abuse of these medications are not entirely clear. Though the possibility remains that opioid abusers are using BZDs therapeutically to self-medicate anxiety, mania or insomnia, the data reviewed in this paper suggest that BZD use is primarily recreational. For example, co-users report seeking BZD prescriptions for the purpose of enhancing opioid intoxication or "high," and use doses that exceed the therapeutic range. Since there are few clinical studies investigating the pharmacological interaction and abuse liability of their combined use, this hypothesis has not been extensively evaluated in clinical settings. As such, our analysis encourages further systematic investigation of BZD abuse among opioid abusers. The co-abuse of BZDs and opioids is substantial and has negative consequences for general health, overdose lethality, and treatment outcome. Physicians should address this important and underappreciated problem with more cautious prescribing practices, and increased vigilance for abusive patterns of use.
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