Overdose deaths linked to synthetic benzodiazepines rose more than sixfold between 2019 and 2020, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Underground labs are making new synthetic versions of prescription benzodiazepines, or tranquilizers, such as Valium, Xanax and Ativan, HealthDay reports. The CDC also found overdose deaths involving prescription benzodiazepines increased 22%.

The report found the number of overdose deaths in 2020 involving prescription benzodiazepines (1,122) still far outnumber those involving synthetic benzodiazepines (316).
Synthetic benzodiazepines are structurally similar to prescription tranquilizers, but have unknown side effects and toxicities, according to Dr. Alex Mancini, director of the Toxicology Research Core in the Emergency Medicine Research Division at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.

“More synthetic benzodiazepines are being reported in toxicology reports across the globe, outpacing new synthetic opioids,” said Pat Aussem, associate vice president of consumer clinical content development for Partnership to End Addiction.