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Benzodiazepines, Health Care Utilization, and Suicidal Behavior in Veterans With Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

J Clin Psychiatry 2018;79(6):17m12038
10.4088/JCP.17m12038

Objective: To evaluate the relationships between benzodiazepine use and (1) health care utilization and (2) suicide risk in veterans diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Methods: This propensity-matched retrospective cohort study included veterans diagnosed with 1 ICD-9 code for PTSD who were active users of the Veterans Affairs health care system between January 1, 2001, and December 31, 2014. Exposure included at least 1 thirty-day prescription of a benzodiazepine within 1 year following PTSD diagnosis among patients with no recent history of benzodiazepine use. The primary outcomes were health care utilization and suicidal behavior.

Results: A total of 242,493 of 1,134,201 eligible veterans were included in the propensity-matched cohort, 80,831 (7.13%) of whom were prescribed benzodiazepines. Veterans with PTSD who received benzodiazepines had significantly more hospitalizations (incident rate ratio [IRR] = 1.27; 95% CI, 1.10–1.47) and emergency department (IRR = 1.16; 95% CI, 1.13–1.20), general outpatient (IRR = 1.19; 95% CI, 1.16–1.21), outpatient mental health (IRR = 1.49; 95% CI, 1.41–1.57), and total mental health (IRR = 1.37; 95% CI, 1.34–1.40) visits. Benzodiazepine users had a significantly greater risk of death due to suicide (hazard ratio [HR] = 2.74; 95% CI, 2.40–3.13) and were significantly more likely to have medically documented suicide attempts (HR = 1.85; 95% CI, 1.65–2.08) and suicidal ideation (HR = 1.57; 95% CI, 1.48–1.67).

Conclusions: Benzodiazepine users had higher rates of health care utilization and were more likely to attempt and complete suicide than patients without benzodiazepine exposure. This study strengthens the empirical evidence against the use of benzodiazepines in veterans with PTSD. Prescribers should weigh the benefits and risks—especially the almost 3-fold increase in suicide risk—when prescribing benzodiazepines in these patients.