Bottle of unidentified prescription medication are shown. / Jessica Brandi Lifland for USA TODAY
Misuse of the popular sedative alprazolam, known by the trade name Xanax, sent more than 123,000 people to the emergency room in 2011, slightly fewer than the year before but more than double the number who went to the emergency room in 2005, a new report shows.
The report was issued Thursday by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
More than 1.2 million people sought emergency care in 2011 for abusing prescription drugs, the SAMHSA's Drug Abuse Warning Network reported.
Alprazolam, also sold as Xanax XR and Niravam, was the most commonly prescribed psychiatric medication in 2011. It is used to treat anxiety, depression and insomnia.
"We're seeing growth in the number of people who are getting into trouble with these drugs," says Pete Delany, director of SAMHSA's Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. "Patients really need to be educated that if these drugs are misused, they can be really, really dangerous."
Taking the drug with other central nervous system depressants, such as prescription pain killers, can result in depressed breathing and heart rate, and a loss of consciousness, which can lead to death.
DAWN tracks non-medical use of prescription drugs, including taking more than the prescribed dose, taking a drug prescribed for someone else, deliberate poisoning and abuse.
In 2005, 57,419 people sought medical help after misusing Xanax, DAWN reported. In 2010, the number reached a high of 124,902, a 118% increase. In 2011, the number dropped slight to 123,744.
In 81% of the cases, the patient had used the Xanax in combination with other prescription drugs or alcohol, the report found. Nearly two-thirds of those patients used the drug with another prescription drug, including more than a third who used the drug with a prescription pain reliever such as oxycodone.
Nearly 52,000 patients used Xanax with two or more drugs. Of those patients, 85% combined the drug with other prescriptions, 46% used it with illicit drugs and 39% had alcohol.
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