There are many substances to which a person could potentially come addicted. More often than not, we tend to focus on the most common mind-altering substances, including alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and heroin, but there are a wide variety of powerful and extremely dangerous substances that have proven to be prone to abuse. In particular, depressants are one of the most-abused types of drugs; these are substances that ‘depress’ the central nervous system, causing a marked decrease in energy level and inhibiting things like cognition and fine motor skills. Among depressant drugs, one called lorazepam has become extremely popular among substance abusers and continues to pose a major threat in the United States.
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WHAT EXACTLY IS LORAZEPAM?
For most people, lorazepam is going to be most familiar by the trade name Ativan, which is what the drug has been marketed as for quite some time. Although this drug is a depressant, it’s also a benzodiazepine, so we must first take a little time to look back on benzodiazepines. Prior to benzodiazepines like lorazepam and a number of others, the most commonly-used medications for conditions involving anxiety were barbiturates; however, barbiturates came to be associated with a number of unpleasant effects as well as high potential for abuse and dependency, leading a number of chemists and pharmaceutical researchers to look for an alternative. Benzodiazepines were discovered by accident in 1954 by Austrian chemist Leo Sternbach; at the time, Dr. Sternbach was employed by Hoffmann-LaRoche, which remains a huge pharmaceutical and diagnostic company — currently referred to simply as ‘Roche’ — based in Basel, Switzerland.
Ironically, Sternbach’s accidental discovery of benzodiazepines were considered a failed experiment until about a year later when one of Sternbach’s colleagues was going back through the former’s research. At this point, benzodiazepines were, in fact, found to have therapeutic value, creating intense interest in this new class of depressant pharmaceuticals. By 1959, the first benzodiazepine, chlordiazepoxide, was put on the market at Librium. It wouldn’t be until some years later that Ativan would make its first appearance.
Lorazepam is considered to be one of the “classical benzodiazepines”, which is a group of core drugs that includes many of the most well-known and widely used benzodiazepines, such as diazepam (Valium), clonazepam (Klonopin), flurazepam (Dalmane), and clorazepate (Tranxene). In fact, many of the benzodiazepines that would be introduced over the years were derived from one or more of these classical benzodiazepines, many of which were discovered over the decade that followed the commercial release of Librium. Lorazepam, in particular, was first synthesized in 1963, which was just four years after the launch of the first benzodiazepine; its pharmaceutical patent was granted by the F.D.A. in 1967, but the drug wasn’t commercially available until it was launched by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals in 1977, a decade after it was patented.
Since the benzodiazepines that were being created were found to be effective anxiolytics — meaning that they were effective in alleviating anxiety and panic — lorazepam was intended for similar uses. In fact, due to the intensity of its effects, lorazepam was supposed to be used to treat severe anxiety, but only for short periods of time. The drug was also found to have potential value for individuals who suffer from insomnia and conditions that involve seizures, including epilepsy. Of course, over time, users realized that they could achieve feelings of euphoria by taking lorazepam in doses much higher than advised, resulting in the abuse of lorazepam — as well as virtually all other benzodiazepines — becoming quite commonplace by the 1980s.