Initial evidence points to the anti-anxiety medicine Ativan as the cause for Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell’s untimely death.

Chris was found dead Thursday morning following his concert in Detroit the night before.

Why did this artist who had been happily married for 13 years, with two beautiful children and many creative music projects under way, suddenly decide to end his life by hanging himself in a motel room?

His wife, Vicky Cornell , issued a statement on Friday, focusing the blame directly on an overdose of the anti-anxiety drug Ativan.

She wrote “His world revolved around his family first and, of course, his music second. He flew home for Mother’s Day to spend time with our family. He flew out mid-day Wednesday, the day of the show, after spending time with the children. When we spoke before the show, we discussed plans for a vacation over Memorial Day and other things we wanted to do.” [1]

She went on to say, “When we spoke after the show, I noticed he was slurring his words; he was different. When he told me he may have taken an extra Ativan or two, I contacted security and asked that they check on him. What happened is inexplicable and I am hopeful that further medical reports will provide additional details. I know that he loved our children and he would not hurt them by intentionally taking his own life.” [2]

An attorney for the Cornell family, Kirk Pasich added, “Without the results of toxicology tests, we do not know what was going on with Chris — or if any substances contributed to his demise. Chris, a recovering addict, had a prescription for Ativan and may have taken more Ativan than recommended dosages. The family believes that if Chris took his life, he did not know what he was doing, and that drugs or other substances may have affected his actions.” [3]

A later police report stated that Martin Kirsten, Chris’s bodyguard, had given Chris two Ativan after the Wednesday night concert. [4]

Only 45 minutes after giving Chris the Ativan, Martin received a panicked call from Vicky Cornell asking him to check up on her husband as he had not sounded okay to her during their call.

Kirsten broke into the locked hotel room door and found Chris already dead.

Ativan linked to Suicidal Behavior

Ativan is the brand name for the drug Lorazepam. It is in the class of drugs called Benzodiazepines  which are widely and profitably  sold as sedatives and anti-anxiety medicines.  Xanax, Valium, Librium, and Klonopin are other familiar names in this class. They are considered benign medications by drug manufacturers and many physicians and psychiatrists. Yet the facts contradict this perception.

The Lorazepam Abuse Help organization operates inpatient and outpatient facilities around the US because Ativan is both very addictive and very easy to overdose on.

They cite a recent study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) that revealed several important facts about Lorazepam.

“The study found that sedative-hypnotics like Lorazepam are the most widely abused prescription drugs and account for 35% of drug-related hospital emergency room visits. Benzodiazepines are the most commonly used sedative in these cases, and Lorazepam is the third most commonly used benzodiazepine. The same study found that benzodiazepines are the most commonly used pharmaceutical drug in suicide attempts, with 26% of attempted suicide cases involving benzodiazepines.” [5]

Incriminating Evidence against Ativan Found on its FDA Insert

The following warning is present on the Ativan informational insert:

“The use of benzodiazepines, including lorazepam, may lead to physical and psychological dependence. The risk of dependence increases with higher doses and longer term use and is further increased in patients with a history of alcoholism or drug abuse or in patients with significant personality disorders… Addiction-prone individuals (such as drug addicts or alcoholics) should be under careful surveillance when receiving lorazepam or other psychotropic agents.” [6]

According to this warning (since Chris had an earlier history of abusing alcohol and drugs) he never should have been given a prescription for Ativan.

The warning insert also states:

“Pre-existing depression may emerge or worsen during use of benzodiazepines including lorazepam. Ativan (lorazepam) is not recommended for use in patients with a primary depressive disorder or psychosis.”

Chris had spoken of his depression in the past but seemingly had moved beyond it into a new life with his new family.

Did whoever wrote Chris’s current Ativan prescription consider this drug warning?

“In general, benzodiazepines should be prescribed for short periods only (e.g., 2 to 4 weeks). Extension of the treatment period should not take place without reevaluation of the need for continued therapy. Continuous long-term use of product is not recommended. Withdrawal symptoms (e.g., rebound insomnia) can appear following cessation of recommended doses after as little as one week of therapy. Abrupt discontinuation of product should be avoided and a gradual dosage-tapering schedule followed after extended therapy.” [7]

More data is needed as to how long Chris was taking Ativan and at what dosages and whether re-evaluation by a doctor ever took place. Was he experiencing withdrawal symptoms and thus decided to take more after the concert?

The Lorazepam label lists over 40 physical and mental withdrawal symptoms including anxiety, depression, insomnia, confusion, hallucinations, panic attacks and short-term memory loss.

The label goes on to state, “In patients with depression, a possibility for suicide should be borne in mind; benzodiazepines should not be used in such patients without adequate antidepressant therapy.” [8]

Did Chris Cornell ever get this information from his doctor?

“To assure the safe and effective use of Ativan (lorazepam), patients should be informed that, since benzodiazepines may produce psychological and physical dependence, it is advisable that they consult with their physician before either increasing the dose or abruptly discontinuing this drug.” [9]

Finally, the warning includes a list of over 65 adverse reactions to Ativan including slurred speech. This is exactly how his wife described Chris’s behavior during their final phone conversation. [10]

Suicidal ideation and attempt is also on the list of adverse reactions. [11]

Latest Statistics Show Benzodiazepine Prescriptions (And Deaths) Still on the Rise

The profits in handing out these drugs and promoting them as essentially harmless has resulted in their dramatic growth in the US

Data from the annual Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys between 1996 and 2013 found that the number of adults with benzodiazepine prescriptions grew by more than two thirds, from 8.1 million to 13.5 million people. [12]

Chris Cornell appears to have been one of those unlucky “patients” who suffered the deadly adverse effects of a drug that claims to be an anti-anxiety medicine yet causes anxiety, that claims to sell a happy life yet causes suicide.

Could his tragic ending have been averted with medical care that paid attention to the warning included with the drug itself?

Once again, a psychiatric drug has destroyed the life of a bright artist, leaving his family and fans in mourning.

[1] http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/chris-cornells-wife-issues-statement-w483179

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4523770/What-happened-inexplicable-Chris-Cornell-s-wife-breaks-silence-revewife-breaks-silence-xxxx-kills-self-says-d-taken-extra-ati-slurring.html

[5] http://www.lorazepamabusehelp.com/how-to-know-when-a-lorazepam-user-needs-emergency-help

[6] https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2016/017794s044lbl.pdf

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid

[11] Ibid

[12] http://www.foxnews.com/health/2016/02/29/benzodiazepine-prescriptions-overdose-deaths-on-rise-in-us.html