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What Is Phenazepam?

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  • Written By: C. Webb
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 09 August 2014
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Phenazepam is a type of benzodiazepine, or sleep-inducing psychoactive drug, and is used to treat various neurological disorders including epilepsy, insomnia, and alcohol withdrawal. Due to its ability to minimize the effect of post-surgery anesthesia, phenazepam is also used in hospital settings. It is often given as a pre-operative anti-anxiety medication.

The typical dose of phenazepam is 0.5 mg two or three times a day. One mg of this drug is equivalent to 10 mg of diazepam, the generic form of Valium. Phenazepam dosages higher than 1 mg are not recommended.

Hiccups, drowsiness, loss of coordination, and dizziness are possible side effects of phenazepam. High doses of the drug can produce amnesia. Physical dependence on phenazepam is possible, and abrupt discontinuation of this drug can cause severe withdrawal symptoms, including seizures, anxiety, and death. A patient should be weaned off the drug through medically supervised dosage reductions.

Caution should be used when taking this drug if the patient is pregnant, elderly, an addict, or an alcoholic. Patients with more than one mental illness should also use caution. Such conditions should be discussed with a doctor prior to taking the drug.

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In July 2011, the United Kingdom banned the importation of phenazepam, citing misuse of the drug by adolescents. In Scotland in 2010, three reported overdoses of the drug triggered a policy of running postmortem phenazepam toxicology tests on people who die of unknown causes. As of December 2011, the US did not have phenazepam listed as a controlled substance, though diazepam and other benzodiazepines were listed.

Research has shown that prolonged use of benzodiazepines by adolescents increases the risk of suicide and suicidal thoughts. This was found to be especially true among adolescent drug users. A 1982 study by the American Cancer Society concluded that benzodiazepine users had a significantly higher risk of developing various cancers.

When properly prescribed and used, phenazepam has been shown to be an effective treatment for anxiety and other neurologically based disorders. Medical monitoring and an open dialogue with the prescribing doctor can help eliminate several potential issues, such as addiction. Patients who find they are physically dependent on phenazepam should speak with their physicians about gradually reducing the dosage until they are no longer taking the drug.

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