The Growing Problem of Benzodiazepine Misuse in Older Adults

Opioid abuse is a major problem in the United States, and there has been a great deal of attention on the opioid crisis. The country is also experiencing a problem with benzodiazepine use and misuse, but this issue is not in the national spotlight.

Benzodiazepine prescriptions increased 67% between 1996 and 2013.  Benzodiazepine overdose deaths also increased around this same time (1999-2015). Opioid use was present in 75% of benzodiazepine overdoses. Some experts think that this may put a focus on opioids instead of the harm associated with benzodiazepine.

Benzodiazepine use among older adults is of special concern. Older adults are particularly vulnerable to harmful effects of benzodiazepine. This includes an increased risk of falls, fractures, motor vehicle accidents, and dementia. The American Geriatrics Society and other professional societies in other countries do not recommend that benzodiazepine be prescribed to older adult patients. Many providers still prescribe benzodiazepine drugs to older adults even with warnings about safety and information about other types of available treatment options. Research has shown than many providers are not aware of how dangerous benzodiazepine can be to older adults. Research has also shown that many providers do not know that other treatment options exist. Benzodiazepine prescriptions for older adults remains inappropriately high, especially for those who are aged 85 and older.