Interactions of benzodiazepines with heroin: Respiratory depression, temperature effects, and behavior.


Behavioral Neuroscience Branch, National Institute on Drug Abuse - Intramural Research Program, National Institutes of Health, DHHS, 333 Cassell Drive, Baltimore, MD, 21224, USA. Electronic address: [Email]


Benzodiazepines are important therapeutic drugs, but they are often abused and co-abused with opioids. Clinical evidence suggests that benzodiazepines can inhibit respiration, and when combined with the respiratory-depressive effects of opioids, may increase likelihood of death. In this study we used oxygen sensors coupled with high-speed amperometry and multi-site thermorecording to examine how intravenous (iv) midazolam, a potent benzodiazepine, modulates the brain hypoxic and temperature effects of iv heroin in freely-moving rats. Oxygen levels and brain temperature were assessed with high temporal resolution in the nucleus accumbens (NAc), an important structure in the motivational-reinforcement circuit. When administered alone, midazolam (2 mg/kg) modestly decreased NAc temperature but had no evident effects on oxygen levels in this structure. In contrast, heroin (0.4 mg/kg) induced a strong decrease in NAc oxygen that was followed by a weaker, rebound-like oxygen increase. Midazolam pretreatment did not affect heroin-induced brain hypoxia but potentiated the initial hypothermia induced by heroin. However, co-administration of these drugs potentiated the heroin-induced oxygen decrease and enhanced heroin-induced brain hypothermia. Co-administration of heroin and midazolam also resulted in enhanced locomotor inhibition and loss of motor control. This effect caused some rats to collapse, resulting in nose and mouth occlusion, which caused a secondary hypoxic phase. These results could have important implications for human drug users, as the combined use of benzodiazepines with potent opioids not only results in sustained brain hypoxia but creates conditions of loss of motor control which could result in asphyxia and death. This article is part of the Special Issue entitled 'New Vistas in Opioid Pharmacology'.


Brain hypoxia,Midazolam,Nucleus accumbens,Opiates,Rats,Vasoconstriction/vasodilation,