While the study found that the overall rate of overdose deaths involving benzodiazepines plateaued in 2010, in some groups—adults aged 65 and older, blacks, and Hispanics—these rates continued to increase throughout the study period.
Marcus A. Bachhuber, M.D., M.S.H.P., assistant professor of medicine at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and colleagues examined data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey and multiple cause-of-death data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Between 1996 and 2013, the number of adults filling a benzodiazepine prescription increased 67 percent, from 8.1 to 13.5 million. Among those filling benzodiazepine prescriptions, the median cumulative quantity filled over the year increased by 140%, from 86.8 mg to 208.0 mg lorazepam equivalents. Meanwhile, the rate of overdose fatalities involving benzodiazepines rose nearly fourfold in the 17-year period.
Bachhuber and colleagues suggested several possible explanations for factors driving overdose mortality: “Among people who filled benzodiazepine prescriptions, the median quantity filled over the year more than doubled between 1996 and 2013, suggesting either a higher daily dose or more days of treatment, which potentially increased the risk of fatal overdose,” they wrote. “Second, people at high risk for fatal overdose may be obtaining diverted benzodiazepines …Finally, increases in alcohol use or combining benzodiazepines with other medications (such as opioid analgesics) could increase the risk of fatal overdose and explain this rise.”
For more information, see the Psychiatric News article “Benzodiazepines: Experts Urge Balance.”