DEA, FDA weighing benzodiazepines

The Drug Enforcement Agency and U.S. Food and Drug Administration are holding public hearings while agency heads study whether to reclassify or declassify some benzodiazepines from their current DEA Schedule IV classification of abused drugs. (Schedule I is the highest classification, including LSD and heroin, for example, while Schedule V is the lowest. Codeine and most barbiturates are just above benzodiazepines as Schedule III drugs.)

Currently, 15 benzodiazepines are marketed by U.S. drug companies, with the DEA contending that Valium (diazepam) and Xanax (alprazolam) are among the most widely abused, with the DEA reporting 14,720 and 17,000 respective emergency room admissions in 1996.

The purpose of the hearings is to determine whether differing properties of some drugs in the benzodiazepines class hold differing levels of potential abuse and therefore should be taken off the Schedule IV list. The ongoing public hearings are the result of a petition by drug maker Carter-Wallace to take its drug Doral (quazepam) off the DEA list, while opinions so far have been varied.

A University of New Mexico survey resulted in 74% of 66 neuropharmacologists coming out against any reclassification or scheduling of benzodiazepines.

Counters James Ballinger, MD, of Washington, DC, who represented the American Psychiatric Association at a Sept. 11 public hearing, "Drug abuse with benzodiazepines is a rare event, almost always occurring in patients who abuse other drugs or substances."

DEA officials believe the public hearing and review process should take another year.