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Original Research

Declining Benzodiazepine Use in Veterans With Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Brian C. Lund, PharmD, MS; Nancy C. Bernardy, PhD; Bruce Alexander, PharmD; and Matthew J. Friedman, MD, PhD

Published: November 29, 2011

Article Abstract

Objective: Clinical practice guidelines issued by the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense caution against benzodiazepine use among veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because of insufficient evidence for efficacy and emerging safety concerns. We examined recent trends in benzodiazepine prescribing among veterans with PTSD in terms of frequency of use, duration of use, and dose.

Method: Administrative VA data from fiscal years 1999 through 2009 were used to identify veterans with PTSD according to ICD-9 codes extracted from inpatient discharges and outpatient encounters. Benzodiazepine use among these individuals was determined for each fiscal year by using prescription drug files. Modal daily doses were examined by using standard daily dosage units.

Results: The number of veterans receiving care for PTSD in the VA increased from 170,685 in 1999 to 498,081 in 2009. The proportion of individuals receiving a benzodiazepine decreased during this time period from 36.7% to 30.6%. In addition, the proportion of long-term users (> 90 days) decreased from 69.2% to 64.1%, and daily dose decreased from 2.1 to 1.8 standard daily dosage units.

Conclusions: Decreasing benzodiazepine use among veterans with PTSD is encouraging. However, the frequency of use remains above 30%, and focused interventions may be required to achieve further reductions. Given the growing number of veterans being diagnosed and treated for PTSD, minimizing benzodiazepine exposure will remain a vital policy issue for the VA.

J Clin Psychiatry

Volume: 72

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