A documentary recently released on Netflix highlighted the threat benzodiazepine drugs have on our nation. “Take Your Pills: Xanax,” followed a few people with diagnosed anxiety and how it has affected their lives. “A cure for some and a curse for others” adequately describes benzodiazepines, and the film discusses how the same overprescribing practices that caused the opioid crisis are occurring now with drugs like Ativan and how this issue is something that can no longer be overlooked.
Although Ativan overdose is less likely to occur when using it alone, it’s still a serious concern. As more people are prescribed these potent drugs to manage diagnosable conditions like anxiety, insomnia, or seizures, we will continue witnessing a rise in benzodiazepine use disorder and overdose. Ativan and other benzodiazepines have redeeming issues – they adequately treat overactive nervous system issues but should be taken cautiously. Benzo misuse currently accounts for 17.2 percent of all benzodiazepine use in the country.
When used correctly under a doctor’s supervision, Ativan reduces many common anxiety symptoms, such as unjustified fears, panic attacks, sleeplessness, restlessness, and agitation. It’s also used for seizures, alcohol withdrawal, spasms, or insomnia. There are many genuine uses for this drug. However, one issue that increases the risk of Ativan is that it’s an intermediate-acting drug with a half-life of 11 to 20 hours, meaning that using too much in a short period can cause a potentially fatal overdose.
You put yourself at serious risk when you abuse a drug like Ativan. Prolonged Ativan use leads to tolerance, which is when you need more of the drug to experience the same effects and can lead to higher, more dangerous doses. This occurs in 50 percent of patients in as little as four weeks. If you or someone you know is using Ativan, it’s important to know the symptoms of an overdose and how to manage it.
Signs and Symptoms of an Ativan Overdose
Despite their effectiveness when used as prescribed, Ativan is a potentially dangerous drug, especially when it lands in the wrong hands. Benzodiazepines were synthesized as a “safer” alternative to barbiturate drugs, and in many ways, they are, but they are still powerful central nervous system (CNS) depressants that produce similar effects. While they are generally less harmful, especially regarding dosage, deadly outcomes are still a reality when misusing Ativan and other drugs in this category. Overdoses happen more than we’d like to accept, which can even occur after the first time you take this medicine.
If you’re prescribed Ativan by a doctor, they deem your condition severe enough for pharmaceutical intervention. Your doctor will exhaust all other resources before considering this option and prescribe the lowest dose possible to achieve therapeutic effects. If you still experience symptoms, they will consider increasing the dosage or trying another approach. When taking Ativan, please list your side effects and keep your doctor in the loop. If you take more than they suggest or start taking it more frequently, you increase the risk of adverse effects, such as an overdose. The longer you use Ativan, even as prescribed, the more dependent your body will become to function normally. This can lead to withdrawal symptoms upon cessation. Do not take more to combat these effects.
Ativan overdoses occur when you take more of the drug than prescribed or when it’s mixed with other depressants like barbiturates, opioids, or alcohol. You must never take Ativan with prescription narcotics or illicit opioids. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) found 16 percent of overdose cases were caused when benzodiazepines and opioids were mixed. The odds of overdosing increase ten times when mixing opioids and benzos.
Ativan overdose symptoms will not manifest the same in everyone. However, knowing the various types that can occur is important for you to identify one should it occur. Some factors will influence the severity, such as using the medication with opioids or ingesting it in ways that aren’t prescribed, such as injecting or snorting. These are the most common Ativan overdose symptoms:
- Bluish fingernails or lips
- Blurred or double vision
- Altered mental state
- Overwhelming dizziness
- Trouble breathing, or unable to breathe at all
- Extreme confusion or disorientation
- Uncoordinated muscle movements
While severe complications with Ativan overdose are rare, it doesn’t mean that can’t happen. These are often caused by physical trauma when a person loses consciousness. However, a lack of oxygenated blood, a period of extended mobility on the ground, and respiratory distress can also cause the following complications:
- Brain damage
- Muscle damage
Fatal overdoses are uncommon, especially when taking the drug as prescribed by your doctor. Unfortunately, though, it’s not impossible, especially if you mistakenly take the wrong dose. These odds skyrocket when mixing with alcohol or other depressant drugs. The most common risk factors are:
- Taking Ativan with barbiturates, opioids, or alcohol
- Taking more than prescribed or more often
- Snorting or injecting Ativan
- Using much higher doses
Is Ativan Overdose Fatal?
One critical aspect that separates benzodiazepines from barbiturates is that lethal overdoses are less common. However, that doesn’t mean a fatal Ativan overdose won’t occur, even if you aren’t mixing it with other drugs. These are powerful drugs, and everyone who takes them will have a different reaction. Benzodiazepine overdoses have risen substantially in the past several years. A recent report showed a 42.9 percent increase year over year and an unfathomable 519.6 percent increase in illicit benzo overdose deaths – 34.4 percent involved opioids.
Ativan Overdose Statistics
The unraveling benzo crisis continues to gain more notoriety, as evidenced by the new documentary we discussed above, and it should – a recent study found that 46.3 percent of all respondents were benzodiazepine misusers. They were motivated to continue using the medication for its sedative effects. Another 22.4 percent used the drug to sleep, and 5.7 percent were experimenting, but the most troubling statistic is that 11.8 percent used it to get high or because they were addicted. Only 20 percent obtained benzos with a prescription, as evident by the 519.6 percent increase in illicit benzo overdose deaths.
Treatment for an Ativan Overdose
If you see someone overdose on Ativan, the first step you must take is to remain calm. We understand this is a profoundly tragic situation, but overreacting will cause you to make bad decisions. For that reason, stay calm and call 911 right away. Seeking help is important, but if you’re unsure of what to do while waiting on first responders, it’s critical to take the necessary steps to keep the individual safe.
First, call 911 – the longer you wait for help, the odds of the person enduring permanent long-term damage or death increase with each passing second. Please provide the following information when you’re talking to an emergency operator:
- Provide the height, weight, and age of the person who overdosed
- Thoroughly explain all of their symptoms and anything they’re complaining about, if conscious
- Tell the operator all drugs or alcohol that have been consumed that day
- Explain to them how much Ativan has been taken
- Let them know if the medication was obtained legally or through illicit means
When help arrives, their objective is to stabilize the patient before transporting them to the hospital. Each second counts in this situation, and they will maximize them to save their life. When the individual arrives at the hospital, doctors will immediately assess their condition and provide respiratory support, intravenous fluids, and a drug that reverses the effects of Ativan. Flumazenil works similarly to Narcan for opioids and will help someone who has overdosed on Ativan. It’s incredibly effective, but if administered, the patient must stay in the hospital for monitoring. How long they stay and their recovery time is solely dependent on how fast they receive treatment and the severity of the overdose.
Even if you do everything right, an Ativan overdose can still produce life-altering challenges. When taking this drug, please take extreme caution to avoid becoming a statistic. These incredibly powerful drugs must be used only to manage medically diagnosed conditions. You should always keep them in a safe space, never share your prescription with others, and always take the necessary steps when acquiring this drug. Never purchase from illicit sources. If you’re unable to control your Ativan use, please reach out for professional help.