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Comparative safety of chronic versus intermittent benzodiazepine prescribing in older adults: a population-based cohort study

Davies SJC, Rudoler D, de Oliveira C, Huang A, Kurdyak P, Iaboni A. J Psychopharmacol. 2022; 36(4):460-9. Epub 2022 Feb 1. DOI:

Background — Benzodiazepine treatment recommendations for older adults differ markedly between guidelines, especially their advice on the acceptability of long-term use.

Aims — Using population-based data we compared risks associated with chronic versus intermittent benzodiazepine usage in older adults. The primary outcome was falls resulting in hospital/emergency department visits.

Methods — We undertook a retrospective population-based cohort study using linked healthcare databases in adults aged ⩾ 66 years in Ontario, Canada, with a first prescription for benzodiazepines. Chronic and intermittent benzodiazepine users, based on the 180 days from index prescription, were matched (1:2 ratio) by sex, age and propensity score, then followed for up to 360 days. Hazard ratios (HRs) for outcomes were calculated from Cox regression models.

Results — A total of 57,041 chronic and 113,839 matched intermittent users were included. Hospitalization/emergency department visits for falls occurred during follow up in 4.6% chronic versus 3.2% intermittent users (HR = 1.13, 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.08 to 1.19; p < 0.0001). There were significant excess risks in chronic users for most secondary outcomes: hip fractures, hospitalizations/emergency department visits, long-term care admission and death, but not wrist fractures. Adjustment for benzodiazepine dosage had minimal impact on HRs.

Conclusion — Our study demonstrates evidence of significant excess risks associated with chronic benzodiazepine use compared to intermittent use. The excess risks may inform decision-making by older adults and clinicians about whether short- or long-term benzodiazepine use is a reasonable option for symptom management.

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