Ann Arbor, MI—Benzodiazepine use is on the upswing in the United States, a new survey finds, and about 12.6% of adults used the drugs in the past year, whether through appropriate prescriptions or misuse.

In fact, the study published online by Psychiatric Services notes that more than 17% of overall use was not directed by a physician—whether obtained without a prescription or use more frequently or for a longer duration than prescribed. Included in the benzodiazepines class are alprazolam, diazepam, clonazepam, lorazepam, and others.

University of Michigan researchers report that misuse was highest, 5.6%, among young adults aged 18 to 25 years and, actually, was as common as prescribed use.

Past studies from 2013 and 2014 suggest about 4% to 6% of adults used benzodiazepines then, although previous national estimates of use have not accounted for misuse.

The current cross-sectional analysis was conducted using 2015 and 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health data of adults reporting benzodiazepine use. Misuse was compared between younger (aged 18 to 49 years) and adults aged 50 years and older.

Results indicate that 30.6 million adults (12.6%) reported past-year benzodiazepine use—25.3 million (10.4%) as prescribed and 5.3 million (2.2%) through misuse.

Adults aged 50 to 64 years had the highest prescribed use (12.9%), and those 65 and older had the lowest misuse.

“Misuse and abuse of or dependence on prescription opioids or stimulants were strongly associated with benzodiazepine misuse,” the researchers note. “Benzodiazepine misuse without a prescription was the most common type of misuse, and a friend or relative was the most common source.”

The study found that adults aged 50 and older were more likely than younger adults to use a benzodiazepine more frequently than prescribed and also to use the medications because of sleep disturbances.

“Benzodiazepine use among U.S. adults was higher than previously reported, and misuse accounted for nearly 20% of use overall,” the authors conclude. “Use by adults ages 50–64 now exceeds use by those ages ≥65. Patients also prescribed stimulants or opioids should be monitored for benzodiazepine misuse. Improved access to behavioral interventions for sleep or anxiety may reduce some misuse.”

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