A 3-year survey quantifying the risk of dose escalation of benzodiazepines and congeners to identify risk factors to aid doctors to more rationale prescribing


Objectives This study investigated and quantified risk factors of dose escalation, as an indication of drug misuse and dependency of benzodiazepines and congeners, among presumably drug naïve patients in the Norwegian drug prescription database, observed over 3 years.

Design Observational study.

Setting Prescription database study.

Participants We defined an excessive user as one redeeming more than two defined daily doses per day in 3 months.

Primary and secondary outcome measures We examined the risk of excessive use over time and the effect of risk factors through multistate logistic regression and scenarios.

Results Most of the 81 945 patients had zopiclone or zolpidem as the initial drug (63.8%), followed by diazepam (25.3%), oxazepam (6.1%), nitrazepam/flunitrazepam (2.9%), hydroxyzine/buspirone (1.6%) and alprazolam (0.3%). At any time 23% redeemed prescriptions, about 34% did not redeem any prescriptions beyond any 3-month period and 0.9% ended up as excessive users. Patients previously using drugs, such as opioids, antialcohol or smoke cessation treatment, had a higher risk to become excessive users compared to patients who had not. Patients whose first prescription was for oxazepam or nitrazepam/flunitrazepam had a higher risk of becoming an excessive user compared to those who started with diazepam. A specialist in general practice as the first-time prescriber was associated with a lower risk compared to doctors without specialty.

Conclusions Most benzodiazepine use occurred according to guidelines. Still, some experienced dose escalation over time, and risk factors were previous use of other psychotropic drugs, long time use, choice of first-time drug and prescriber's specialty. This could incite doctors to have a cessation plan when issuing first-time prescriptions.