More teens are overdosing on benzos for anxiety

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The number of teens taking and overdosing from benzodiazepines, commonly prescribed anxiety medications, has risen dramatically over the past decade, according to a new study.

The researchers found a 54% increase in cases involving children ages 12 to 18 that were reported to US Poison Control Centers from 2000 to 2015.

The researchers analyzed 296,838 benzodiazepine exposure cases involving children under the age of 18 obtained from the National Poison Data System. While the rate of exposure in children under the age of 6 decreased, the rate for adolescents rose from 17.7 exposures per 100,000 children in 2000 to 27.3 exposures per 100,000 children in 2015. The study also shows a rise in intentional abuse, with nearly half of all reported exposures in 2015 documented as intentional abuse, misuse, or attempted suicide.

“While benzodiazepine overdose by itself is typically not life-threatening, the findings of this study show an increase in teens taking one or more additional substances, which increases the severity of the effects, including death or life-threatening symptoms that can affect future health,” says Diane Calello, executive and medical director of the New Jersey Poison Control Center at the emergency medicine department at Rutgers University’s New Jersey Medical School, one of the authors.

Approximately 70,000 children receive care in an emergency department annually due to medication overdoses, with nearly 12% of these visits resulting in hospitalization. Calello says the increased availability of prescription medications is a likely cause of both adult and pediatric poisonings.

“Our study group found that the increasing rate of reported benzodiazepine exposures appear to reflect the increasing rate of benzodiazepine prescriptions that have been reported across the United States over the past decade,” she says.

“Medical providers should be aware of the increased prevalence of benzodiazepine exposures to help limit unnecessary prescribing. Parents and caregivers must be counseled on the proper use, storage, and disposal of these high-risk medications.”

The study appears in the journal Clinical Toxicology.

Source: Rutgers University