Boston—If pharmacists have the sense that they are filling a lot of prescriptions for antianxiety drugs, they are correct.

A new study found that the rate of ambulatory care visits where benzodiazepine prescriptions were recorded nearly doubled over the time period from 3.8% to 7.4% over a 12-year period.

The report in JAMA Network Open noted that primary care physicians accounted for about half of all visits where benzodiazepines were prescribed for insomnia, seizures, and neuropathic pain, as well as anxiety.

Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School used nationally representative data to examine patterns in outpatient prescribing of benzodiazepines, including more than 386,000 ambulatory care visits from 2003 through 2015.

The study found that use among psychiatrists remained relatively stable—29.6% versus 30.2% at the end of the study period—but increased among all other types of physicians, including primary care physicians—3.6% versus 7.5%.

Researchers report that 919 benzodiazepine visits occurred in 2003 and 1,672 in 2015, which can be extrapolated nationally to 27.6 million and 62.6 million visits, respectively. While the benzodiazepine-visit rate increased slightly for anxiety and depression (26.6% [95% CI, 22.6%-31.0%] to 33.5% [95% CI, 28.8%-38.6%]; = .003) and neurologic conditions (6.8% [95% CI, 4.8%-9.5%] to 8.7% [95% CI, 6.2%-12.1%]; <.001), increases were more significant for back and/or chronic pain (3.6% [95% CI, 2.6%-4.9%] to 8.5% [95% CI, 6.0%-11.9%]; P <.001) and other conditions (1.8% [95% CI, 1.4%-2.2%] to 4.4% [95% CI, 3.7%-5.2%]; P <.001).

On the other hand, the study did not find a significant change in use for insomnia (26.9% [95% CI, 19.3%-36.0%] to 25.6% [95% CI, 15.3%-39.6%]; = .72).

Especially troubling, according to the authors, is that the coprescribing rate of benzodiazepines with opioids quadrupled from 0.5% (95% CI, 0.3%-0.7%) in 2003 to 2.0% (95% CI, 1.4%-2.7%) in 2015 (P <.001). At the same time, the coprescribing rate with other sedating medications doubled from 0.7% (95% CI, 0.5%-0.9%) to 1.5% (95% CI, 1.1%-1.9%) (P <.001).

“The outpatient use of benzodiazepines has increased substantially. In light of increasing rates of overdose deaths involving benzodiazepines, understanding and addressing prescribing patterns may help curb the growing use of benzodiazepines,” the study concludes.

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