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Original Research

Deimplementation of Benzodiazepine Prescribing in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in the Veterans Health Administration

Nancy C. Bernardy, PhDa,*; Matthew J. Friedman, MD, PhDa; and Brian C. Lund, PharmD, MSb

Published: March 14, 2022


Objective: Our objective was to characterize benzodiazepine prescribing changes among veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and inform efforts to deimplement low-value prescribing practices.

Methods: This retrospective observational study used national Veterans Health Administration (VHA) administrative databases to examine annual period prevalence and incidence of benzodiazepine prescribing from 2009 through 2019 in veterans with PTSD. International Classification of Diseases (ICD-9/10) codes were used to identify PTSD. Temporal trends in discontinuation rates, incidence rates, and prevalent prescribing among patients newly engaged in PTSD care were measured.

Results: Benzodiazepine prevalence in veterans with PTSD declined from 31.3% in 2009 to 10.7% in 2019, and incidence decreased from 11.4% to 2.9%, along with a 30% decrease in daily doses. Increasing discontinuation rates accounted for 21.0% of the decline in prevalence, while decreasing incidence among existing patients accounted for 36.8%, and decreased prevalence among new PTSD cohort entrants accounted for 42.2%. Women received benzodiazepines more commonly than men (odds ratio [OR] = 1.67; 95% CI, 1.64–1.70). The proportion of older adults increased over time among both existing (2009: 14.5%; 2019: 46.5%) and new (2009: 8.6%; 2019: 24.3%) benzodiazepine recipients.

Conclusions: Benzodiazepine prescribing in VHA among veterans with PTSD showed changes driven by decreases in prevalence among new PTSD cohort entrants, with smaller changes in discontinuation and decreased incidence among existing patients. Educational initiatives may have curtailed benzodiazepine prescribing through promotion of effective alternative treatment options and supporting discontinuation through various tapering strategies. These initiatives offer resources and lessons to other health care systems to deimplement inappropriate benzodiazepine prescribing and other potentially harmful practices through patient-centered approaches that promote viable treatment alternatives.

Volume: 83

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