Doctors urge caution when it comes to using Xanax

Non-drug approaches equally effective, health experts say

By Calvin Hughes - Anchor

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. - If you're feeling anxious, uneasy, fearful and worried, you're not alone. It seems America is becoming a nation on edge, and many people are seeking solace in a potentially deadly drug: Xanax.

After decades of increasing demand for antidepressants, more and more Americans are now looking for a different feel-good pill to pop.

"There are now 50 million prescriptions of Xanax written by doctors -- more than one every second," Dr. Daniel Bober said.

Bober, a psychologist, said today's 24/7 society may be driving the desire to zone out with the drug.

"We're always looking for something to lighten the burden of our existence," he said.

When Xanax was released for panic disorder more than 30 years ago, it quickly became a blockbuster drug.

"In the right setting, it's an amazing drug, and it's changed the life of people who couldn't function, couldn't leave their house, and so there's definitely a need for the drug, but it's a double-edged sword," Dr. Boaz Rosenblat said.

The downside of Xanax is that it has a very high potential for dependence and abuse.

"Why Xanax is so addictive is it has a very rapid onset of action and a very short duration of action, so it requires the person to use more and more of it to achieve the desired effect," Bober said.

Visits to emergency rooms due to the abuse of Xanax have more than doubled, and fatal overdoses account for a third of all deaths from prescription medications.

"If you take it too much, it makes you so relaxed to the point where you stop breathing," Rosenblat said.

Rosenblat, who works with Memorial Healthcare in Florida, said withdrawals from the drug can be equally dangerous.

"Just the other night, I had a patient who came in. Her heart rate was 180 (and she was) vomiting," he said. "(She was in) such severe distress, and she had stopped both alcohol and her Xanax at the same time."

Withdrawal can cause flushing, elevated heart rate and extreme anxiety to the point of causing a seizure.

"It's one of the drugs that can be very dangerous if it's stopped abruptly, and the tolerance to it, or the dependence on it, can develop in a matter of days," Bober said.

A woman who asked not to be identified said she occasionally takes the drug for panic attacks, but she is cautious about the risks.

"I think that if people misuse it, it can be a very dangerous drug, especially if you mix it with alcohol or take more than you're supposed to," she said.

Xanax is meant to be used only sporadically and for short periods of time, but critics said many doctors are prescribing it regularly and for years at a time.

Mental health experts said non-drug approaches -- such at rational behavioral therapy, or RBT -- are equally, if not more, effective than anti-anxiety drugs, without the risk of addiction or death.

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