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Drug Alcohol Depend. 2018 Jun 1;187:29-34. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2018.02.011. Epub 2018 Mar 26.

Examining racial/ethnic differences in patterns of benzodiazepine prescription and misuse.

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Health Equity Research Lab, Cambridge Health Alliance and Harvard Medical School, 1035 Cambridge St., Cambridge, MA, 02141, USA. Electronic address:
Health Equity Research Lab, Cambridge Health Alliance and Harvard Medical School, 1035 Cambridge St., Cambridge, MA, 02141, USA.
Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, 25 Shattuck St., Boston, MA 02115, USA.
Harvard School of Public Health 677 Huntington Ave., Boston, MA 02115, USA.



Benzodiazepines (BZDs) are widely prescribed during psychiatric treatment. Unfortunately, their misuse has led to recent surges in overdose emergency visits and drug-related deaths.


Electronic health record data from a large healthcare system were used to describe racial/ethnic, sex, and age differences in BZD use and dependence. Among patients with a BZD prescription, we assessed differences in the likelihood of subsequently receiving a BZD dependence diagnosis, number of BZD prescriptions, receiving only one BZD prescription, and receiving 18 or more BZD prescriptions. We also estimated multivariate hazard models and generalized linear models, assessing racial/ethnic differences after adjustment for covariates.


In both unadjusted and adjusted analyses, Whites were more likely than Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians to have a BZD dependence diagnosis and to receive a BZD prescription. Racial/ethnic minority groups received fewer BZD prescriptions, were more likely to have only one BZD prescription, and were less likely to have 18 or more BZD prescriptions. We identified greater BZD misuse among older patients but no sex differences.


Findings from this study add to the emerging evidence of high relative rates of prescription drug abuse among Whites. There is a concern, given their greater likelihood of having only one BZD prescription, that Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians may be discontinuing BZDs before their clinical need is resolved. Research is needed on provider readiness to offer racial/ethnic minorities BZDs when indicated, patient preferences for BZDs, and whether lower prescription rates among racial/ethnic minorities offer protection against the progression from prescription to addiction.


Alcohol withdrawal; Anxiety; BZD; BZD dependence; Benzodiazepines; Drug; Drug dependence; Drug misuse; Insomnia; Mental health; Mental illness; Muscle relaxation; Panic disorder; Prescription; Psychoactive; Racial/ethnic disparity; Seizures; Treatment

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