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Increased use of anti-anxiety and sleep drugs by elderly increases OD risk

Despite warnings from experts, older people are using more anti-anxiety and sleep medications, putting them at risk of serious side effects and even overdose (Source: “A Quiet Drug Problem Among the Elderly,” New York Times, March 16, 2018).

For years, geriatricians and researchers have sounded the alarm about the use of benzodiazepines among older adults. Often called “benzos,” the problem drugs include Valium (diazepam), Klonopin (clonazepam), Xanax (alprazolam) and Ativan (lorazepam).

The cautions have had scant effect: Use of the drugs has risen among older people, even though they are particularly vulnerable to the drugs’ ill effects. Many patients take the medications for years, though they’re recommended only for short periods. The chemically related “z-drugs” — Ambien, Sonata and Lunesta — present similar risks.

Now the opioid epidemic has generated fresh warnings, because pain relievers like Vicodin (hydrocodone with Tylenol) and OxyContin (oxycodone) are also frequently prescribed for older people. When patients take both, they’re at risk for overdosing.