January 7, 2015
Benzodiazepine Emergencies Often Serious,
Especially in Older Users

Rockville, MD—More than 30% of hospital emergency department (ED) visits involving benzodiazepines, such as alprazolam, diazepam, clonazepam, and lorazepam, resulted in serious medical outcomes, such as hospitalization or even death, according to a recent study.

The report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) notes that when the ED visit involved benzodiazepines in combination with opioid pain relievers or alcohol, the risk of a serious outcome rose to 44%. The risk rose to 50% in ED visits involving benzodiazepines, opioid pain relievers, and alcohol, SAMHSA points out.

In older patients, the risks increased significantly: 70% of ED visits involving  patients 65 or older who had combined benzodiazepines with alcohol and opioid pain relievers resulted in serious outcomes, compared to 39% of visits involving people aged 12 to 34 using the same combination of substances.

“Benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed medications that can benefit some patients but, like all medications they must be properly used and monitored,” said Elinore McCance-Katz, MD, SAMHSA’s chief medical officer. “The adverse events being seen in emergency departments are often the result of drug-drug interactions that can occur between benzodiazepines, opioids and alcohol.”

What would help protect patients, according to McCance-Katz, is better education by physicians and other prescribers about potential risk of drug interactions. “Healthcare providers and patients must work together to ensure that prescribed medications are taken in a way that maximizes benefits and diminishes risks,” she added.

The report entitled, Benzodiazepines in Combination with Opioid Pain Relievers or Alcohol: Greater Risk of More Serious Emergency Department Visit Outcomes, is based on findings from the 2005 to 2011 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN). DAWN monitors drug-related morbidity and mortality through reports from a network of hospitals across the nation. 

In 2011, DAWN reported that there were approximately 5 million substance-related visits to hospital EDs.

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