Long-term use of anti-anxiety drugs continues in B.C. despite known health risks: study

May 20, 2010

Drugs to treat anxiety and sleep disorders are still being prescribed for extended periods to British Columbian patients - and increasingly so for baby boomers - despite warnings against long-term use, according to a University of British Columbia study.

Published online in the journal , the study by researchers at UBC's Centre for Health Services and Policy Research (CHSPR) is the first of its kind to examine the use of benzodiazepines such as Xanax and Ativan for an entire population over time. It's also the first to pinpoint the socio-economic characteristics associated with long-term users of such drugs.

Results show that seniors and low-income earners are more likely to be long-term users of benzodiazepines, with rates remaining steady over a 10-year period. Meanwhile, use among the middle-aged population has increased. Harms associated with long-term use (more than 100 days in a year) can include dependence and tolerance, , and increased risks of falls in the elderly.

"Given the potential for dependence and harms associated with these drugs, they are recommended to be used sparingly for short periods," says Colleen Cunningham, CHSPR researcher and lead author of the study. "However, our study suggests that a significant number of British Columbians - especially the elderly who suffer greater health risks from falls - are using them for long periods."

Benzodiazepines are one of the most commonly prescribed types of neurological drugs in developed countries. The UBC study compared health records of B.C. residents from 1996 and 2006. Of the 4.9 per cent of the overall B.C. population who were given short-term benzodiazepine prescriptions in 2006 and 3.5 per cent who were given long-term prescriptions:

  • Nearly half of long-term users were over age 65, and more than a quarter were 75 or older
  • Two out of three were women, both for short- and long-term use
  • Long-term users were more likely to be in the lowest income bracket than short-term or non-users
Cunningham and co-authors Gillian Hanley and Steve Morgan found long-term use in 2006 was associated with early use - half of all 2006 long-term users had been prescribed benzodiazepines in 1996. The researchers are calling for prescribing practices and policies that target populations younger than conventionally studied (i.e. under age 65) to reduce rates of long-term use.

Explore further: Drug research and development more efficient than expected

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Sedatives, mood-altering drugs related to falls among elderly

Nov 23, 2009

Falls among elderly people are significantly associated with several classes of drugs, including sedatives often prescribed as sleep aids and medications used to treat mood disorders, according to a study led by a University ...

Recommended for you

Drug research and development more efficient than expected

Feb 27, 2015

Drug R&D costs have increased substantially in recent decades, while the number of new drugs has remained fairly constant, leading to concerns about the sustainability of drug R&D and question about the factors that could ...

Use new meningitis vaccines only for outbreaks

Feb 26, 2015

(AP)—A U.S. panel on Thursday recommended that two new meningitis vaccines only be used for rare outbreaks, resisting tearful pleas to give it routinely to teens and college students.

New antibiotic avycaz approved

Feb 26, 2015

(HealthDay)—The combination antibiotic Avycaz (ceftazidime-avibactam) has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat adults with complicated infections of the intra-abdominal area or urinary tract, ...

Tagging drugs to fight counterfeit medicines

Feb 25, 2015

The U.S. and other countries are enacting rules to clamp down on the sales of fake pharmaceuticals, which pose a public health threat. But figuring out a system to track and authenticate legitimate drugs still faces significant ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.