Patterns in Outpatient Benzodiazepine Prescribing in the United States

Key Points

Question: How are benzodiazepines being prescribed, and how have prescribing patterns changed over time?

Findings: In this serial cross-sectional study of 386 457 ambulatory care visits from 2003 through 2015, the use of benzodiazepines in ambulatory care increased substantially from 3.8% to 7.4% of visits, including coprescribing with other sedating medications. Use among psychiatrists was stable (29.6% vs 30.2%) but increased among all other types of physicians, including primary care physicians (3.6% vs 7.5%), who as a group accounted for about half of all benzodiazepine visits.

Meaning: In light of increasing death rates associated with benzodiazepine overdose, addressing prescribing patterns may help curb the growing use of benzodiazepines.

Abstract

Importance: Benzodiazepines are implicated in a growing number of overdose-related deaths.

Objectives: To quantify patterns in outpatient benzodiazepine prescribing and to compare them across specialties and indications.

Design, Setting, and Participants: This serial cross-sectional study (January 1, 2003, through December 31, 2015) used nationally representative National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey data. The yearly population-based sample of outpatient visits among adults, ranging from 20 884 visits in 2003 (representing 737 million visits) to 24 273 visits in 2015 (representing 841 million visits) was analyzed. Prescribing patterns were examined by specialty and indication and used to calculate the annual coprescribing rate of benzodiazepines with other sedating medications. Data were analyzed from July 1, 2017, through November 30, 2018.

Main Outcomes and Measures: Annual benzodiazepine visit rate.

Results: Among the 386 457 ambulatory care visits from 2003 through 2015, a total of 919 benzodiazepine visits occurred in 2003 and 1672 in 2015, nationally representing 27.6 million and 62.6 million visits, respectively. The benzodiazepine visit rate doubled from 3.8% (95% CI, 3.2%-4.4%) to 7.4% (95% CI, 6.4%-8.6%; P < .001) of visits. Visits to primary care physicians accounted for approximately half of all benzodiazepine visits (52.3% [95% CI, 50.0%-54.6%]). The benzodiazepine visit rate did not change among visits to psychiatrists (29.6% [95% CI, 23.3%-36.7%] in 2003 to 30.2% [95% CI, 25.6%-35.2%] in 2015; P = .90), but increased among all other physicians, including primary care physicians (3.6% [95% CI, 2.9%-4.4%] to 7.5% [95% CI, 6.0%-9.5%]; P < .001). 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%]; P = .003) and neurologic conditions (6.8% [95% CI, 4.8%-9.5%] to 8.7% [95% CI, 6.2%-12.1%]; P < .001), but more so 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); use did not change for insomnia (26.9% [95% CI, 19.3%-36.0%] to 25.6% [95% CI, 15.3%-39.6%]; P = .72). 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); 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).

Conclusions and Relevance: 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.

Citation
Agarwal SD, Landon BE. Patterns in Outpatient Benzodiazepine Prescribing in the United States. JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(1):e187399. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.7399
Publication Date
Research Language

English

Country
United States