More Teens Are Overdosing from Anxiety Medications

The number of teens overdosing from the commonly prescribed anxiety medications, benzodiazepines, has dramatically increased over the past decade, according to a recent study published in the journal Clinical Toxicology.

“Recently, there has been an increase in prescription drug abuse and related fatalities,” the researchers wrote in their abstract. “Although opioid analgesics are commonly implicated, there have been significant increases in the prevalence of benzodiazepine exposures and overdoses.”

In this retrospective database analysis, the researchers identified close to 300,000 pediatric benzodiazepine exposures in children ages 0 to 18 years old which were reported to participating United States poison centers from January 2000 through December 2015. The exposure data were procured from the National Poison Data System while population data were obtained from the US Census Bureau. The researchers used chi-square tests to analyze all the data.

A Troubling Upward Trend

The results of the study showed that the rate of pediatric benzodiazepine exposure increased by 54% between 2000 and 2015. The researchers observed that the severity of medical outcomes also increased, as well as the prevalence taking other drugs in conjunction with benzodiazepine, especially in children between the ages of 12 and 18 years old. Moreover, the results revealed that half of all reported exposures in 2015 were documented as intentional abuse, misuse, or attempted suicide, which the researchers noted reflected a change from prior years. They found that the most commonly identified pediatric benzodiazepines of exposures were alprazolam, clonazepam, and lorazepam.

“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,” said Diane Calello, executive and medical director of the New Jersey Poison Control Center at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School’s Department of Emergency Medicine, one of the authors in a Rutgers University press release.

“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,” Calello added. “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.”