MULAUDZI 1: Niccole was born and raised in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. To protect her daughter, I’ll only be using her first name. When she was 11 her parents separated and her dad took care of her on his own. He worked a lot so she says she didn’t have much supervision. At 13, she started experimenting with drugs. First with alcohol and marijuana but soon she and a friend wanted to try Xanax. Her friend’s mom gave them the pills for the first time.
NICCOLE 1: Very odd right? She knew we wanted to try it right and she felt safer knowing we were getting if from her and we were in her house [0:10]
MULAUDZI 2: By 14 Niccole was using Xanax daily. Then when she was 17, she started having problems with anxiety. So her doctor prescribed it to her.
NICCOLE 2: I thought oh okay I’m getting it from a doctor so it’s okay. [0.03]
MULAUDZI 3: But it wasn’t okay. Niccole, was misusing her medication and she says she knew it. So when she got pregnant at 19, she stopped taking xanax and focused on raising her child. But last year, at 25, after seven years being clean she started dating a man who was misusing painkillers.
NICCOLE 3: I started using benzos again along with opioids and the opioids led to heroin [0:05]
MULAUDZI 4: In New York City in 2010, the most recent year for which data is available, nearly half of accidental drug overdoses included the use of benzos. But they’re only half the problem. The study says another problem is users mixing their benzos with opioids – like vicodine or oxycontin. Last week public health officials from 20 states including New York signed a petition asking the FDA to put black box warnings on all opioids and benzos.
Max Schwartzberg, is a substance abuse therapist at The Resource Counselling Center of Bay Ridge. That’s where Niccole now goes for her therapy. The center has 65 patients – nearly half of them are being treated for abuse of Benzos.
SCHWATZBERG 2: They’ve used it to come down from you know some sort of binge or an episode of use. [0.05]
MULAUDZI 5: Schwatzberg says one reason accidental overdoses are becoming as common as they are is that users don’t realize how much harm combining drugs on their own can do. He says even adding half a milligram of one drug to another can have enormous consequences.
SCHWATZBERG 1: It slows down your heart rate and your heart rate and that’s fatal. [0:05]
MULAUDZI 6: The study says another possible reason for the increase in overdoses is the way prescriptions are written. Many doctors use old school prescription pads. This means they have no way of knowing if a patient is being prescribed more pills than they need. But starting later this month, the state Health Department will require ALL prescriptions to be done electronically. AND E-prescribing comes with advantages.
MUSKIN 2: I discover that you are getting two different sleep medications. One from me, and one from your primary care doctor. What’s going on? [0.14]
MULAUDZI 9: That’s Dr Muskin. He’s a psychiatrist at the Columbia University Medical Center. He says to fix the problem, doctors need to put their patients on medications for a limited period OF TIME.
MUSKIN 11: The problem for some patients is it’s never revisited. They LOVE the drug, they’re on it forever and they keep getting prescription after prescription and no one ever says do you really still need the drug. [0.13]
MULAUDZI 10: Muskin says when patients have been using their benzos for a while, doctors have to wean them off the drug slowly to prevent withdrawal. That’s the process Niccole is going through now. So to handle her anxiety she’s taking another a benzo called Klonopin. It acts slowly so it doesn’t give the her the buzz she used to get from Xanax. She’s been sober for 6 months now and she says she’s proud of herself.
NICCOLE 5: I feel back to me. I feel like me again. I feel like I have life you know. [0.06]
MULAUDZI 11: Saving lives is what the FDA has pledged to do. In 2014 there were over 25000 deaths from prescription drug overdoses. In response to the petition for black box warnings the FDA says it will continue to monitor the mixed use of opioids and benzos.
Shandukani Mulaudzi, Columbia Radio News.