Anxiety Medications and Fatal Overdose

The increasing popularity of prescription anxiety medications has led to a massive spike in overdose deaths. A recently-published study in the American Journal of Public Health showed that while benzodiazepine prescriptions (a popular class of anti-anxiety drugs) have become more widespread, so have abuses and ultimately, deaths. Unfortunately, some of the most vulnerable—those age 65 and older—were also those who used these drugs long term. Overall, the deaths have risen more than 5 times since the beginning of the tracking period in 1996.

Anxiety is a very real and potentially debilitating condition. This study illustrates the urgent need for safe, and effective alternatives for anxiety relief. And they are available. For example, there is a clinicnally-studied, specialized extract of Echinacea angustifolia that has shown remarkable results. Additionally, omega-3s, and herbs including lemon balm and holy basil can go a long way to alleviating the stress that can ultimately lead to serious anxiety.

The study: Increasing Benzodiazepine Prescriptions and Overdose Mortality in the United States, 1996–2013

Bachhuber MA, Hennessy S, Cunningham CO, Starrels JL. Increasing Benzodiazepine Prescriptions and Overdose Mortality in the United States, 1996-2013. Am J Public Health. 2016 Apr;106(4):686-8. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2016.303061. Epub 2016 Feb 18.

OBJECTIVES: To describe trends in benzodiazepine prescriptions and overdose mortality involving benzodiazepines among US adults.

METHODS: We examined data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey and multiple-cause-of-death data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

RESULTS: Between 1996 and 2013, the percentage of adults filling a benzodiazepine prescription increased from 4.1% (95% confidence interval [CI] = 3.8%, 4.5%) to 5.6% (95% CI = 5.2%, 6.1%), with an annual percent change of 2.5% (95% CI = 2.1%, 3.0%). The quantity of benzodiazepines filled increased from 1.1 (95% CI = 0.9, 1.2) to 3.6 (95% CI = 3.0, 4.2) kilogram lorazepam equivalents per 100 000 adults (annual percent change = 9.0%; 95% CI = 7.6%, 10.3%). The overdose death rate increased from 0.58 (95% CI = 0.55, 0.62) to 3.07 (95% CI = 2.99, 3.14) per 100 000 adults, with a plateau seen after 2010.

CONCLUSIONS: Benzodiazepine prescriptions and overdose mortality have increased considerably. Fatal overdoses involving benzodiazepines have plateaued overall; however, no evidence of decreases was found in any group. Interventions to reduce the use of benzodiazepines or improve their safety are needed.