Benzodiazepines May be Disproportionately Prescribed

New data indicates that benzodiazepines are often prescribed inappropriately to patients, such as the elderly, who may be at risk for adverse events. Benzodiazepines are mostly prescribed for anxiety and sleep disorders, Medscape Medical News reports.

“For patients with COPD, substance use disorders, osteoporosis, and advanced age seem most likely to be prescribed a benzodiazepine medication, and at the highest doses – the choice of prescribing a benzodiazepine should be made with great caution,” writes David S. Kroll, MD, from Harvard Medical School and Department of Psychiatry, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, and colleagues. 

Researchers found that among patients with high-dose benzodiazepine prescriptions, 52 percent were also concurrently prescribed antidepressants.

Benzodiazepines are a large drug class and have a long history of use, starting with the first FDA approvals in the 1960s, of chloridiazepoxide (Librium) and diazepam (Valium). Other brand names include: Xanax, Librax, Dalmane, Ativan, Serax, Halcion, reports

Benzodiazepines are commonly abused. This is partially related to the toxic effects they produce and also their widespread availability. They can be chronically abused or, as seen more commonly in hospital emergency rooms, intentionally or accidentally taken in overdose. Serious illness or death rarely result from benzodiazepine abuse alone. They are, however, often frequently taken with other medications or alcohol. The combination with alcohol can be dangerous, or even lethal.

Despite their many positive uses, benzodiazepines can lead to physical and psychological dependence. Dependence can result in withdrawal symptoms and possibly seizures when they are stopped abruptly. When people take this medication in normal doses and for short periods, dependence and withdrawal occur in only a very small percentage, according to WebMD.

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