A new report finds that more Americans are using benzodiazepines than ever before despite efforts to curtail their use.
Benzodiazepines are used to treat conditions such as anxiety and insomnia and include alprazolam (Xanax, Niravam) diazepam (Valium), clonazepam (Klonopin), lorazepam (Ativan) as well as others.
Efforts to curb use of this class of medications stem from findings that show misuse of benzodiazepines is common and linked to exploitation of or dependence on prescription opioids or stimulants. Experts state that safer alternatives are available especially given the associated harms related to the opioid epidemic.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 30 percent of overdoses involving opioids also involve benzodiazepines, which are themselves habit-forming and potentially addictive.
University of Michigan researchers found that more than one in eight U.S. adults (12.6 percent) used benzodiazepines in the past year, up from previous reports. Misuse of the prescription drugs accounted for more than 17 percent of overall use, according to the study published online in Psychiatric Services.
The researchers defined misuse as any way a doctor did not direct, including using the drug without a prescription or more often or longer than prescribed. Misuse was highest among young adults 18 to 25 (5.6 percent) and was as common as prescribed use.
Researchers analyzed data from the 2015 and 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Although there were differences in the studies, research from 2013 and 2014 found about 4 to 6 percent of adults used benzodiazepines. Previous national estimates of use have not accounted for misuse.
In addition to finding that overall use has increased, the new study is the first analysis to find the highest benzodiazepine use among adults 50 to 64 years (13 percent); previous studies found the highest use was among those 65 and older.
Whereas women were more likely than men to report any use of benzodiazepines, men were more likely than women to report misuse.
When asked about the reasons for misuse, nearly half said to relax or relieve tension and just over a quarter said to help with sleep. Among people taking benzodiazepines without a prescription, the most common source was a friend or relative.
The authors, led by Donovan Maust, M.D., suggested that patients also prescribed stimulants or opioids should be monitored for benzodiazepine misuse.
They also noted that some misuse may reflect limited access to health care generally and behavioral treatments specifically. The researchers suggested some misuse could be reduced with improved access to behavioral interventions for sleep or anxiety.
Source: American Psychiatric Association