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EDs saw increase in visits for nonmedical use of alprazolam

Tuesday June 10, 2014
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The number of ED visits involving nonmedical use of alprazolam doubled from 57,419 to 124,902 during the years 2005 to 2010, and then remained stable at 123,744 in 2011, according to a new report issued in May by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Alprazolam, aka Xanax, Xanax XR and Niravam, was the thirteenth most commonly sold medication in 2012 and was the psychiatric medication most commonly prescribed in 2011, according to the report.

“When used as directed, alprazolam is safe and effective, but misuse can result in serious health consequences,” SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, said in a news release. “This report highlights the need to educate people about the dangers of misusing or sharing prescription medications and the importance of properly disposing of unused medication.”

The report, “Emergency Department Visits Involving Nonmedical Use of the Anti-anxiety Medication Alprazolam,” is based on data from the SAMHSA’s 2011 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), a public health surveillance system that monitors drug-related ED visits in the U.S.

According to the SAMHSA’s May 22 DAWN Report, alprazolam, which falls into a class of drugs known as benzodiazepines used to treat anxiety, insomnia, depression and panic disorders can be safe and effective when used as directed.

However, the drug can have serious health consequences, such as physical dependence, when taken without medical supervision or in larger amounts than prescribed. If alprazolam is combined with alcohol or other drugs that depress the central nervous system — such as narcotic pain relievers — the effects of these drugs on the body can be dangerously enhanced.

According to the report, there was a significant increase in the number of visits from 2005 to 2011 for both genders. For males, the number of visits steadily climbed from 28,902 visits in 2005 to 66,325 in 2011. For females, the estimated number of visits increased from 28,491 visits in 2005 to 57,419 in 2011.

Between 2005 and 2011, the estimated number of ED visits involving nonmedical use of alprazolam among patients aged 25 to 34 increased from 12,731 to 39,651, the largest increase in a specific age group, which accounted for about one-third (32%) of visits in 2011.

19% of the ED visits in 2011 involved the nonmedical use of alprazolam only. Alprazolam was used in combination with another drug in 39% of visits, with two drugs used in 21% of visits, and with three or more drugs in 21% of visits. The age distribution of alprazolam-related ED visits involving nonmedical use changed between 2005 and 2011. In 2005, patients aged 25 to 34 had a similar number of visits as other young and middle adult age groups (18 to 24 and 35 to 54).

However, by 2011, the 25 to 34 age group had nearly twice the number of visits as each group. This suggests that adults aged 25 to 34 may have the greatest need for interventions addressing nonmedical use of alprazolam, according to the DAWN report.

The report suggested that healthcare professionals prescribing alprazolam should warn patients against combining alprazolam with other medications, alcohol or illicit drugs. Patients also should be advised to only take prescription medications prescribed for themselves and take no more than the prescribed amount of alprazolam to avoid adverse health effects. Prevention and education campaigns should continue to focus on the dangers of sharing prescription medications, the importance of preventing others from having access to personal prescription medications, and methods for properly disposing of remaining dosage units once the need for medication has passed.

For the full DAWN report, visit http://1.usa.gov/1tvn9X3


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