Government Calls US Benzodiazepine Prescription Levels “Worrisome”


Despite the well-known risks of the drugs, especially for the elderly, prescription use of addictive benzodiazepine sedatives in the United States increases steadily with age, according to a large-scale study published in JAMA Psychiatry. Overall, as of 2008, 5.2% of American adults were taking the drugs. The study also showed that women were twice as likely to be taking benzodiazepines as men. National Institute of Mental Health director Thomas Insel called the findings “worrisome.”

“Prescription use of benzodiazepines — a widely used class of sedative and anti-anxiety medications — increases steadily with age, despite the known risks for older people, according to a comprehensive analysis of benzodiazepine prescribing in the United States,” stated a press release from the National Institute of Mental Health. “Given existing guidelines cautioning health providers about benzodiazepine use among older adults, findings from the National Institutes of Health-funded study raise questions about why so many prescriptions — many for long-term use — are being written for this age group.”

Psychiatric News reported: “A new surveillance study has found that benzodiazepine usage increases with age, with nearly 9 percent of adults aged 65 to 80 filling a benzodiazepine prescription in 2008, compared with around 7 percent of adults 51 to 64, 5 percent of adults aged 36 to 50, and less than 3 percent of adults aged 18 to 35. Adults over 65 were also more likely to have a long-term prescription for a benzodiazepine and were more likely to have their prescription written by a nonpsychiatrist; psychiatrists wrote less than 6 percent of benzodiazepine prescriptions for those aged 65 to 80.”

“These new data reveal worrisome patterns in the prescribing of benzodiazepines for older adults, and women in particular,” NIMH director Thomas Insel said in a press release. “This analysis suggests that prescriptions for benzodiazepines in older Americans exceed what research suggests is appropriate and safe.”

Despite risks, benzodiazepine use highest in older people (National Institute of Mental Health press release, December 17, 2014)

Benzodiazepine Prescriptions High Among the Elderly, Study Finds (Psychiatric News Alert, December 22, 2014)

(Abstract) Benzodiazepine Use in the United States (Olfson, Mark et al. JAMA Psychiatry. Published online December 17, 2014. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.1763)