US Pharm. 2019;44(3):33-35.

Over a 15-year period, the number of Americans taking a dangerous combination of both opioids and benzodiazepines—a group of medications commonly prescribed for pain, insomnia, and anxiety—increased by 250%, while there was an 850% increase in patients taking both benzodiazepines and so-called Z-drugs, which act similarly to benzodiazepines, according to a new study published in the journal Sleep.

The research by Dr. Nicholas Vozoris, an associate scientist at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, relies on data from eight National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey cycles between 1999 and 2014. The scientists found the prevalence of benzodiazepine and opioid co-usage in the U.S. in 2014 was 1.36%, while the prevalence of benzodiazepine and Z-drug co-usage was 0.47%.

Dr. Vozoris found the increases in co-usage concerning, given that these drug-use patterns are linked to heightened risks for serious adverse outcomes, including breathing problems and death.

“While the proportions may seem small, these percentages at a population level correspond to millions of people, and the growth of these numbers is alarming,” said Dr. Vozoris, a sleep medicine doctor who often sees patients in his clinic who are taking a worrisome or dangerous combination of drugs.

“There are doctors and members of the public often not realizing that Z-drugs are very similar in action to benzodiazepine drugs—sometimes patients get put on both a benzo and a Z-drug and think they’re two very different drugs,” Dr. Vozoris said.