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Progressive trends in the prevalence of benzodiazepine prescribing in older people in Ontario, Canada


Objectives — The extensive use of benzodiazepines has been a concern of healthcare providers and policy makers in Canada and around the world. The purpose of this study was to examine temporal trends in benzodiazepine prescriptions dispensed in older people from 1993-1998.

Design — Retrospective population-based cross-sectional study using administrative databases.

Setting — Ontario, Canada.

Participants — The over 1 million residents of Ontario age 65 and older covered by the provincial universal drug benefit program.

Measurements — The main outcome measures were the prevalence, overall and with respect to age and gender, of benzodiazepine prescriptions dispensed and the ratio of the number of people to whom short- versus long-acting benzodiazepine prescriptions were dispensed in each study year. The annual rates of switching to other psychotropic agents were examined for those patients that discontinued filling benzodiazepine prescriptions.

Results — The annual prevalence of benzodiazepine prescriptions dispensed decreased consistently over time (25.1% in 1993 to 22.5% in 1998; P < .001). Benzodiazepine dispensing prevalence increased with increasing age (approximately 20% of those age 65 to 69 to approximately 30% of those age > or =85; P < .001) and more females than males received the medication (relative risk = 1.50, 95% confidence interval = 1.49-1.51). The ratio of short- to long-acting benzodiazepine prescriptions filled increased over time (3.6 in 1993 to 5.8 in 1998; P < .001), in line with guideline recommendations. Rates of switching to antidepressants increased over time (8.5% in 1993 to 10.2% in 1998; P < .001), whereas switching to barbiturates was consistently low (0.12%; P = .403).

Conclusion — The prevalence of benzodiazepine therapy for older people in Ontario has steadily declined between 1993 and 1998. There is a trend of dispensing relatively more short-acting than long-acting benzodiazepines and of replacing benzodiazepines with antidepressants in older people without a remarkable increase in barbiturate consumption. These findings suggest that, without undue regulation, physicians are making progress in the prescribing of benzodiazepine therapy on the basis of current knowledge available.



Tu K, Mamdani MM, Hux JE, Tu JV. J Amer Geriat Soc. 2001; 49(10):1341-5.

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