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Abuse of Anti-Anxiety Drugs Increases

Many Incidents Linked to Suicide Attempts


Updated August 23, 2004

The number of drug-abuse related visits to hospital emergency rooms (ERs) involving benzodiazepine medications exceeded 100,000 in 2002, a 41 percent increase since 1995, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration's Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN).

Nearly half of the emergency department (ED) visits involving benzodiazapines -- which include such psychotherapeutic sedatives as Valium, Xanax, Klonopin, and Ativan -- were connected with suicidal ideation, gestures or attempts.

A new DAWN report "Demographic Characteristics of Benzodiazepine-Involved ED Visits," shows that in 2002 the highest rates of benzodiazepines-involved visits to emergency rooms were among adults age 26-44. Between 1995 and 2002, the rates of drug-abuse related hospital emergency department visits involving benzodiazapines rose for young adults and adults age 45 and older.

The most dramatic jump in abuse came among 18-19 year olds, where the rate tripled: from under 20 per 100,000 population to nearly 60. In comparison, patients ages 20-25 experienced a 21 percent increase from 1995 to 2002. Those aged 45-54 also showed a marked increase in abuse, from just over 30 per 100,000 population to 55 per 100,000 population.

Danger of Abuse Increasing

"The abuse of anti-anxiety medications is a serious and growing public health problem," SAMHSA Administrator Charles Curie noted. "Benzodiazepines are some of our most useful and most widely prescribed medications, and are wonders of modern medicine for patients with anxiety, insomnia, or seizures, who are under the care of physicians. But as these medicines become more sophisticated and more widely present in the nation's medicine cabinets, the danger of abuse has increased. SAMHSA is working to provide treatment services for those who abuse benzodiazepines, and prevention activities that will educate the public about the dangers of abusing prescription medications."

Men are now as likely as women to go to emergency rooms because of drug abuse involving benzodiazepines. While suicide-related ER visits involving benzodiazepines remained stable between 1995 – 2002, visits attributed to drug dependence and drug-taking for psychic effects increased. Most drug-abuse related ER visits involving benzodiazepines resulted in hospital admission, DAWN found.

DAWN measures mentions of specific illicit, prescription and over-the-counter drugs that are linked to drug abuse in visits to hospital emergency departments. The report is available online.

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