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Am J Addict. 2012 Nov;21 Suppl 1:S27-34. doi: 10.1111/j.1521-0391.2012.00298.x.

Characteristics of alprazolam-related deaths compiled by a centralized state medical examiner.

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  • 1West Virginia University, School of Pharmacy, Morgantown, WV 26506–9510, USA.



Unintentional drug poisoning deaths represent a major health concern, particularly in rural areas. Although alprazolam is frequently detected in drug-related deaths, characterization of its involvement is limited. Our objective was to compare the characteristics of alprazolam-related deaths with nonalprazolam deaths in a predominantly rural state.


A comprehensive forensic drug database (FDD) was developed in 2005 to compile demographic, toxicology, and co-morbidity information from all West Virginia (WV) drug-related deaths. All FDD data from 2005 to mid-November 2007 were analyzed.


Alprazolam contributed to 204 (17.0%) of the 1,199 drug-related deaths and was identified in 7.2% of the 363 deaths occurring during 2005 and in 27.5% of the 422 deaths entered in the database during 2007. At least one other drug, predominantly an opioid, was identified in 97.5% of the alprazolam cases, with concurrent benzodiazepines also found. Compared to nonalprazolam deaths, alprazolam decedents were significantly more likely to be obese and to have preexisting cardiovascular disease, but were less likely to have documented substance abuse. An alprazolam prescription existed in 52.5% of the alprazolam deaths, with 77.6% having a prescription for all drugs identified.


Alprazolam was a contributing cause of death in a substantial and increasing number of drug-related deaths. Prescriptions for alprazolam and the other drugs detected were often present in these cases.


Controlled substance monitoring programs should be routinely used as one mechanism to help prevent potential drug misuse/abuse. Our findings provide a baseline for ongoing alprazolam-related death surveillance.

Copyright © American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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