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Impact of a publicly-funded pharmacare program policy on benzodiazepine dispensing among children and youth: a population-based natural experiment


Background — In January 2018, the Government of Ontario, Canada, initiated a universal pharmacare program (OHIP+) for all individuals aged 24 years and younger. In April 2019, the program was amended to cover only children and youth without private insurance. Because benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed to children and youth despite their potential hazards, we examined whether changes in publicly-funded drug coverage influenced benzodiazepine dispensing trends in this demographic.

Methods — We conducted a population-based natural experiment study of benzodiazepine dispensing to children and youth in Ontario between January 2013 and March 2020. We used interventional autoregressive integrated moving average models to estimate the impact of OHIP + and its subsequent modification on these trends.

Results — The implementation of OHIP + was associated with an immediate increase in the monthly rate of benzodiazepine dispensing of 12.9 individuals per 100,000 population (95% confidence interval [CI]; 7.5 to 18.3 per 100,000). Benzodiazepine dispensing rates rose from 214.2 to 241.5 per 100,000 from December 2017 to March 2019, a 12.8% (95% CI 9.6–16.0%) increase. In stratified analyses, increases were most pronounced among females, children and youth living in the lowest income neighbourhoods and individuals aged 20 to 24. The April 2019 modification to OHIP + was not associated with changes in monthly benzodiazepine dispensing trends (0.39 individuals per 100,000; 95% CI -1.3 to 2.1 per 100,000). However, rates remained elevated relative to the period preceding OHIP + implementation.

Conclusions — Implementation of a publicly-funded pharmacare program resulted in more children and youth being prescribed benzodiazepines.



Antoniou T, McCormack D, Kitchen S, Pajer K, Gardner W, Lunsky Y, Penner M, Tadrous M, Mamdani M, Juurlink DN, Gomes T. BMC Pediatr. 2023; 23(1):519. Epub 2023 Oct 19.

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