Purpose: This paper will review literature examining the association of benzodiazepine use and mortality.
Methods: An extensive literature review was undertaken to locate all English-language published articles that examine mortality risk associated with use of benzodiazepines from 1990 onwards.
Results: Six cohort studies meeting the criteria above were identified. The results were mixed. Three of the studies assessed elderly populations and did not find an increased risk of death associated with benzodiazepine use, whereas another study of the general population did find an increased risk, particularly for older age groups. A study of a middle aged population found that regular benzodiazepine use was associated with an increased mortality risk, and a study of 'drug misusers' found a significant relationship between regular use of non-prescribed benzodiazepines and fatal overdose. Three retrospective population-based registry studies were also identified. The first unveiled a high relative risk (RR) of death due to benzodiazepine poisoning versus other outcomes in patients 60 or older when compared to those under 60. A positive but non-significant association between benzodiazepine use and driver-responsible fatalities in on-road motor vehicle accidents was reported. Drug poisoning deaths in England showed benzodiazepines caused 3.8% of all deaths caused by poisoning from a single drug.
Conclusion: On the basis of existing research there is limited data examining independent effects of illicit benzodiazepine use upon mortality. Future research is needed to carefully examine risks of use in accordance with doctors' prescriptions and extra-medical use.