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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

BU Says Benzodiazepine Use May Increase Risk of Opioid Misuse

Combined opioid and benzodiazepine use has become more common in both hospital emergency department visits and in drug overdoses. Now, a new study co-authored by Boston University School of Public Health researchers suggests that use of benzodiazepines—anti-anxiety agents, muscle relaxants, and sedatives—increases the risk of early opioid refills and may contribute to opioid misuse.

The study, in the journal Substance Abuse, looked at medical records of about 850 patients receiving chronic opioid therapy at three primary care clinics. Of that group, about 23 percent received at least one benzodiazepine prescription during the study period. Those who were on benzodiazepines were more likely to have gotten an early opioid refill—defined as a prescription written 7 to 25 days after the previous one—than those who were not.

Patients who received benzodiazepines were more likely to be female, white, and have a diagnosis of a depressive, anxiety, or other psychiatric disorder, the study says.

The study also looked at whether benzodiazepine receipt was a marker for illicit cocaine use in patients using opioids. No association with cocaine was found.

“Benzodiazepine prescription may best be conceived of as a marker for addictive behaviors, low pain tolerance or higher pain severity in this population,” the study concludes. “Because alternative therapies exist for the primary indications for benzodiazepine prescription, further research should better elucidate the risks and benefits of prescribing benzodiazepines to patients receiving opioids for pain.”

To read more about the study, go to: