Continuing Versus New Prescriptions for Sedative-Hypnotic Medications: United States, 2005-2012

Am J Public Health. 2016 Nov;106(11):2019-2025. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2016.303382. Epub 2016 Sep 15.


Objectives: To assess trends in continuing and new prescriptions for sedative-hypnotic medications, including benzodiazepines (BZDs) and non-BZD receptor agonists (nBZRAs).

Methods: Data came from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and comprised 287 288 randomly sampled patient visits. Physicians reported medications prescribed and whether they were "continuing" or "new" prescriptions. We assessed trends in continuing BZD, new BZD, continuing nBZRA, and new nBZRA prescriptions from 2005 to 2012.

Results: Proportions of visits with continuing prescriptions increased from 3.4% in 2005 to 4.7% in 2012 (P < .01) for BZDs, and from 1.0% to 1.7% (P < .01) for nBZRAs. We noted no changes in new prescriptions. We observed the same patterns across patient age and physician specialties, except psychiatry. Despite no growth over time, the prevalence of visits involving continuing and new BZD and nBZRA prescriptions was much higher in psychiatry than in primary care and other specialties.

Conclusions: Increased sedative-hypnotic prescribing in recent years may be attributable to long-term growth in continuing prescriptions, rather than new prescriptions. Public Health Implications. Findings call for renewed efforts to limit continuing prescribing of sedative-hypnotics to reduce their use in the population.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Drug Prescriptions / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Humans
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives / administration & dosage*
  • Male
  • Medicine
  • Middle Aged
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data
  • United States
  • Young Adult


  • Hypnotics and Sedatives