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Use and misuse of benzodiazepines is on the rise, new study finds

According to a new study published in Psychiatric Services in Advance, 12.6% of U.S. adults used benzodiazepines last year, and 17% of that group, mostly between the ages of 18 and 25, misused the drugs. For comparison, between 2013 and 2014, only about 4 to 6% of U.S. adults used benzodiazepines.

Benzodiazepines are prescribed medications used to treat anxiety and insomnia. Some forms of benzodiazepine are prescribed as Alprazolam (Xanax, Niravam), diazepam (Valium), clonazepam (Klonopin), lorazepam (Ativan), among others. The drug as a whole has come under fire in recent years because of its harmful side effects and its connection to the ongoing opioid crisis. Researchers found that benzodiazepine misuse is often linked to opioid and stimulant misuse.

The study, in which researchers, led by Donovan Maust, M.D., from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, analyzed National Survey on Drug Use and Health data from 2015 and 2016, was the first to take misuse of benzodiazepines into consideration. The findings also reveal adults aged 50 to 64 accounted for 13% of benzodiazepine users whereas other studies found most users were over the age of 65.

Women were more likely to report using benzodiazepines, and men were more likely to report misuse. When asked about why users misused the drug, meaning they are not following direct doctor instructions, most said they want to relieve stress and tension. Others said the need help sleeping.

Maust said that patients who are prescribed opioids or stimulants should be monitored for benzodiazepine misuse, and also that some misuse may signal a patient’s limited access to health care. Overall misuse could be thwarted with behavioral intervention for sleep and anxiety-related problems.

By Olivia Harvey, Staff Writer

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