(NaturalNews) Anti-anxiety medications intended for short-term use only are still being prescribed for the long-term, according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of British Columbia and published in the journal Health Policy.
The drugs in question, known as benzodiazepines, include the popular drugs Xanax and Ativan. Although they are among the most commonly prescribed psychoactive drugs in the First World, benzodiazepines are known to pose a significant risk of tolerance, dependency and cognitive dysfunction if taken for more than 100 days in a given year. In the elderly, this degree of use can also lead to a greater risk of falls.
"Given the potential for dependence and harms associated with these drugs, they are recommended to be used sparingly for short periods," says Colleen Cunningham, CHSPR researcher and lead author of the study. "However, our study suggests that a significant number of British Columbians -- especially the elderly who suffer greater health risks from falls -- are using them for long periods."
The researchers used British Columbia public health records to examine benzodiazepine use in the province in both 1996 and 2006. They found that over that time period, benzodiazepine use remained fairly constant, with 4.9 percent of the population receiving a short-term benzodiazepine prescription and 3.5 percent receiving a long-term one. Two-thirds of all short- and long-term users were women.
Long-term users tended to be significantly older than short-term users, with roughly 50 percent of long-term users aged 66 or older and more than 25 percent aged 75 or older. Yet benzodiazepine use now appears to be growing among middle-aged Canadians under the age of 65, the researchers warned.
Long-term users were significantly more likely to fall in the lowest income bracket than short-term users or people who had never used the drug. The researchers also found that half of all patients who were long-term benzodiazepine users in 2006 had already been taking the drugs in 1996.