A UK study analyzed public prescribing data on the anti-anxiety and insomnia drugs.
A new study has found that benzodiazepines and z-drugs (non-benzodiazepine drugs with similar effects) are more often prescribed in poorer areas of the UK, the New Scientist reports.
The study analyzed public prescribing data from the National Health Service. Saran Shantikumar, a researcher at the University of Warwick, was curious if prescribing behavior toward “benzos” would reflect prescribing behavior toward opioid medication, which also had previously been found to be more prevalent in “deprived areas.”
They found that there was a correlation between prescriptions for benzos and z-drugs and deprived areas (defined by deprivation of income, employment, education, health, housing and more). The study only analyzed public prescribing data, leaving private prescription data unaccounted for.
Lack Of Treatment Options
Shantikumar suggested that the prescribing trend may be the result of a lack of substance use disorder treatment options in these areas for people who become dependent on the drugs, which are prescribed for managing anxiety and sleep problems.
“I feel that the health service as a whole probably has insufficient capacity to deal with people with addictions,” said Shantikumar. “It may be that people in more deprived areas simply don’t have access to drug-dependency services.”
The Hidden Epidemic
It’s important to note that benzodiazepines are not harmless and should be approached with caution. The popular drugs are at the center of a “hidden epidemic akin to the opioid crisis,” as NBC News reported last year.
It’s easy to develop a tolerance to benzos, leading patients to rely on increasingly higher doses. Withdrawal is painful and long-term use can cause neurological damage, according to Dr. Anna Lembke, chief of addiction medicine at Stanford University Medical Center.
The simultaneous use or abuse of benzos and opioids is also a concern, as Dr. Indra Cidambi, founder and medical director of the Center for Network Therapy in New Jersey, noted in a 2016 article in The Fix.
People who use both of these drugs are at “heightened risk of respiratory depression,” i.e. overdose, and face an even more difficult withdrawal.
Cidambi recommended that doctors and patients who require both opioids and benzodiazepine medication work together to establish a short-term treatment plan with a clear end in mind.