What You Should Know About Ativan, The Drug Chris Cornell’s Widow Believes Contributed To His Death

Life & Culture Editor
05.19.17 3 Comments


A day after the passing of Chris Cornell (currently being reported as a suicide), his wife, Vicky, delivered a public statement that disputed Cornell’s cause of death. According to Vicky Cornell, the singer was taking Ativan (lorazepam) at the time of his death. Furthermore, Cornell had told his wife that he had taken “one or two extra” pills shortly before he died after a show in Detroit. “I noticed he was slurring his words; he was different,” Vicky Cornell said in her statement.

While Cornell’s death is both a tragedy and a great loss to the music world, Vicky Cornell’s statement will also, no doubt, give rise to questions about Ativan, a benzodiazepine often used for the treatment of anxiety, sleep disorders, and chemotherapy-induced nausea, among others. If you’re unfamiliar with the drug, here’s what you need to know:

What is Ativan?

Ativan is the brand name of lorazepam, a benzodiazepine that was first brought to market in 1977 by Wyeth pharmaceuticals (now Pfizer). While experts don’t fully know how benzodiazepines work, research indicates that Ativan increases the activity of gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter responsible for suppressing nerve activity. When GABA activity increases, nerve activity in the brain and spinal cord decrease — leading to feelings of calm, relaxation, and (usually) sleepiness. While the drug can be very helpful in the treatment of short-term anxiety problems — it’s often administered during a panic attack — it also carries a high potential for addiction. Due to this fact (as well as the fact that Ativan withdrawal can be dangerous), benzodiazepines are generally not recommended for long-term use.

It’s important to note that while Ativan is a mild anxiolytic/tranquilizer that it is also a central nervous system depressant, meaning that it can slow down respiration. Therefore, it is imperative that the person taking it does not mix the drug with alcohol or other CNS depressants (opiates including Percocet and Vicodin) unless closely monitored by a doctor.

The drug is currently featured on the “List of Essential Medicines” published by The World Health Organization.

What is Ativan prescribed for?

Ativan is primarily employed in the treatment of anxiety disorders. The drug has been approved by the FDA in the treatment of all seizures, can be prescribed for sleep disorders, and is indicated when treating severe alcohol withdrawal. In addition, Ativan can be used to treat the nausea that often accompanies cancer treatment (chemotherapy and radiation). The drug can be swallowed, dissolved under the tongue, or injected.

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