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Medications for Sleep Disorders Associated With Increased Overdose Risk for Teens

Updated: Apr 22, 2023

A new study from researchers at Rutgers University found that teens and young adults treated for sleep disorders with benzodiazepines (e.g. Xanax) may be at a higher risk of overdose. Researchers utilized a MarketScan research database to identify nearly 90,000 individuals ages 10 to 29 who received a benzodiazepine or an alternative prescription treatment for a sleep disorder. The researchers then examined drug overdoses in this group in the six months following the start of treatment.

The study provides essential information about the increased risks involved with benzodiazepines. Overdoses involving sedatives like benzodiazepines are on the rise in the U.S. According to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, benzodiazepines were involved in 12,290 overdose deaths in 2020, nearly double the reported number from 2011 (6,872 deaths).

Study Results

Six months after treatment initiation, 9.7% of benzodiazepine users and 12.3% of the alternated medication users were still receiving treatment. The incidence of an overdose at 6 months was slightly higher for benzodiazepine initiators than for comparator treatment initiators (0.9% as compared to 0.8%). This association was stronger among young people with a recent prescription opioid fill.

The findings of this study suggest that benzodiazepines, compared with alternative pharmacologic treatments for common sleep disorders, were associated with an increased risk of drug overdose among young people during the following 6-month period, especially among those also receiving prescription opioids.

To read the full study, click here.

Suggested citation:

Bushnell, G. A., Gerhard, T., Keyes, K., Hasin, D., Cerdá, M., & Olfson, M. (2022). Association of Benzodiazepine Treatment for Sleep Disorders With Drug Overdose Risk Among Young People. JAMA network open, 5(11), e2243215.


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