Benzodiazepines, or “Benzos” are a class of drug that commonly pop up in the criminal cases that we review. These sedative “Downers” are commonly prescribed for a variety of maladies; knowledge about the side effects and normal levels is beneficial when they are a major, or even minor, component of a criminal case.

Benzodiazepines affect the neurotransmitter called gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA); which slows neuronal activity. By enhancing this function, the benzos cause the nerve impulses throughout the body to slow or stop. Some benzos like Versed and Halcion have short half-lives: The body metabolizes and excretes the drug quickly and the effects therefore wear off quickly. Compare that to Rohypnol, which is considered to have an intermediate half-life and it will take longer for the drug to get out of the system. Rohypnol, however, has a rapid onset of action, where Restoril has a slow onset of action. Onset of action relates to how quickly the person begins to feel the effects of the drug.

Benzos are commonly prescribed for anxiety disorders and insomnia; they may also be prescribed for seizure disorders, and spastic disorders (such as cerebral palsy). Due to their sedative properties, they have a high potential for abuse.

A few pearls of wisdom for criminal attorneys:

  • Benzodiazepines are going to interact with any other sedative drug (like alcohol) and enhance the symptoms and effects of the drug.
  • Some benzodiazepines will not test positive on a drug screen due to the rapid metabolism by the body. How long it takes for drugs to clear the system varies.
  • If someone has been on a medication for a long time, there is a possibility they no longer experience the side effects of that medication. A review by a medical expert is needed to determine the likelihood of that occurring.

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