Alcohol Often Involved in ER Visits for Prescription Abuse

Opioid pain reliever and benzodiazepine abuse emergency room visits and deaths also involved alcohol in many cases

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Alcohol and prescription medications can both be safe in moderation or as prescribed by a doctor. But their abuse and misuse can be dangerous or even deadly, says a new study.

The study looked at emergency room visits involving opioid pain relievers (OPRs), such as hydrocodone (brand name Vicodin) and oxycodone (OxyContin), and medications called benzodiazepines, such as alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium).

The study found that abuse of these substances led to thousands of ER visits and deaths across the US in 2010 — and many of these events also involved alcohol.

OPRs may be used after surgeries or injuries to relieve pain. Benzodiazepines can treat a number of conditions like anxiety and seizures.

According to the authors of this new study, which was led by Christopher M. Jones, PharmD, of the US Food and Drug Administration's Office of Public Health Strategy and Analysis, when alcohol is combined with OPRs or benzodiazepines, the risk for overdose rises.

The study authors looked at 2010 data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's Drug Abuse Warning Network. This involved ER data from 13 US states. Dr. Jones and team then used this data to make estimates for the nation as a whole.

The researchers estimated that, in the US during 2010, 438,718 ER visits were tied to OPR abuse and 408,021 were tied to benzodiazepine abuse. They said about 18.5 percent of the OPR visits and 27.2 percent of the benzodiazepine visits also involved alcohol.

In the 13 states they studied, Dr. Jones and colleagues found 3,883 deaths tied to OPRs — 22.1 percent of which involved alcohol — and 1,512 deaths tied to benzodiazepines — 21.4 percent of which involved alcohol.

"These findings indicate that alcohol plays a significant role in OPR and benzodiazepine abuse," the study authors wrote. "Interventions to reduce the abuse of alcohol and these drugs alone and in combination are needed."

This study formed nationwide estimates based on data from 13 states. The authors noted the need for more research on the relationship between alcohol and the abuse of OPRs and benzodiazepines.

The study was published online in the Oct. 10 issue of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.


Review Date: 
October 10, 2014
Last Updated:
October 13, 2014