NASHVILLE (WSMV) - Overdose deaths on synthetic anxiety medications spiked at an alarming rate during the pandemic.

It took a big wake-up call to turn Chad Wilkerson's life around.

"I was in jail for 2nd degree attempted murder," Wilkerson said. "It was at that point that I could finally – something clicked, and I was like, 'I need help.'"

He said his addiction began with alcohol, then turned to prescription drugs.

"I found benzos in early like high school and stuff, with things like Xanax and Valium," Wilkerson explained. "And I started abusing those because it was something people didn't really notice I was on."

We hear a lot about overdose deaths at the hands of opioids. But, the pandemic has led to an alarming uptick in overdoses on another commonly prescribed class of drugs

Doctors commonly prescribe Benzodiazepines, highly addictive anxiety medications that, when abused, can have life-altering consequences.

"We've seen overdose rates increase across the board." Dr. Chapman Sledge, Chief Medical Officer at drug addiction treatment center Cumberland Heights, said.

Sledge said the social isolation brought on by the pandemic made people more anxious. That, coupled with a recent uptick in the production of illicit benzos, has been a deadly combination.

"If you buy off the street… it might be fentanyl, it might be designer benzo or it might be a combination of the two," Sledge explained.

Between 2019 and 2020, overdose deaths on illegally manufactured benzos went up more than six times.

"People think that things that are prescribed to you by a doctor or alcohol are safe, and that really couldn't be further from the truth," Wilkerson said.

Now a recovery care advocate at Cumberland Heights, Wilkerson said he wishes he knew then what he knows now.

"Hey, you're not alone," Wilkerson said. "There are so many people that have felt exactly the way that you are feeling now."

Sledge added that 90% of benzo overdoses involve opioids. A statistic so high that in 2016 the CDC strongly discouraged prescribing benzos and opioids together. is now with you on the go! Get the latest news updates and video, 4WARN weather forecast, weather radar, special investigative reports, sports headlines and much more from News4 Nashville.

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