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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

BU Study: Addition of Benzodiazepines Increases Risk of Overdose among Opioid Users

Patients treated with opioids for pain who also receive benzodiazepines face an increased risk of death from drug overdose, with higher benzodiazepine dosage raising that risk, a new study co-authored by researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health.

While the study could not determine whether benzodiazepines were the direct cause of overdose deaths, it did find that receipt of concurrent benzodiazepines was associated with an increased risk of overdose deaths in a large, national sample of veterans who were taking opioid analgesics. Benzodiazepines—medications commonly used to treat anxiety and insomnia—are often prescribed for patients also receiving high doses of opioid analgesics, used to treat pain.

“Although the design of this study does not allow for the determination of the extent to which benzodiazepines cause deaths from overdose, it does indicate a need for clinicians to be aware of the increased risk among patients currently receiving benzodiazepines and opioids, and that the risk might be higher among those receiving higher doses of either or both drugs,” the study, published in BMJ, says.

The heightened risk “might be due to risks inherent to those (patients) prescribed benzodiazepines, such as the presence of an anxiety condition and/or to the benzodiazepine itself,” the authors said. “Thus, clinicians should be cautious when prescribing benzodiazepines to this group.”

To read more about the study, go to: