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Physician benzodiazepine self-use prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic in Ontario, Canada: a population-level cohort study


Objectives — The aim of this study was to investigate physician benzodiazepine (BZD) self-use pre-COVID-19 pandemic and to examine changes in BZD self-use during the first year of the pandemic.

Design — Population-based retrospective cohort study using linked routinely collected administrative health data comparing the first year of the pandemic to the period before the pandemic.

Setting — Province of Ontario, Canada between March 2016 and March 2021.

Intervention — Onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

Outcomes Measures — The primary outcome measure was the receipt of one or more prescriptions for BZD, which was captured via the Narcotics Monitoring System.

Results — In a cohort of 30 798 physicians (mean age 42, 47.8% women), we found that during the year before the pandemic, 4.4% of physicians had 1 or more BZD prescriptions. Older physicians (6.8% aged 50+ years), female physicians (5.1%) and physicians with a prior mental health (MH) diagnosis (12.4%) were more likely than younger (3.7% aged <50 years), male physicians (3.8%) and physicians without a prior MH diagnosis (2.9%) to have received 1 or more BZD prescriptions. The first year of the COVID-19 pandemic was associated with a 10.5% decrease (adjusted OR (aOR) 0.85, 95% CI: 0.80 to 0.91) in the number of physicians with 1 or more BZD prescriptions compared with the year before the pandemic. Female physicians were less likely to reduce BZD self-use (aORfemale=0.90, 95% CI: 0.83 to 0.98) compared with male physicians (aORmale=0.79, 95% CI: 0.72 to 0.87, pinteraction=0.046 during the pandemic. Physicians presenting with an incident MH visit had higher odds of filling a BZD prescription during COVID-19 compared with the prior year.

Conclusions — Physicians’ BZD prescriptions decreased during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ontario, Canada. These findings suggest that previously reported increases in mental distress and MH visits among physicians during the pandemic did not lead to greater self-use of BZDs.



Myran D, Milani C, Pugliese M, Hensel JM, Sood M, Kendall CE, Kendzerska T, Tanuseputro P. BMJ Open. 2023; 13(4):e062742. Epub 2023 Apr 21.

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