Office visits by older patients and those with publicly funded health insurance plans were nearly twice as likely to result in the prescription of these kinds of medications.
The drugs, called benzodiazepines, are often a cheaper alternative to some newer types of medicines that don't have the same potentially addictive side effects, said Rajesh Balkrishnan, the study's lead author and the Merrell Dow professor of pharmacy at Ohio State University .
"Some of the most vulnerable populations in the United States are at greater risk of receiving prescription sleep medication with a high abuse potential," he said.
The study, which appears in the current issue of the journal Sleep, includes data from 94.6 million office visits in the United States over a six-year period. Patients included in the data set sought help for sleep-related difficulties in outpatient physician offices.
Balkrishnan and his colleagues gathered six years of outpatient office visit data from 1996 to 2001 from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS). The NAMCS includes information on patient demographics, the reason for a visit, a patient's diagnosis, the medication prescribed and the therapeutic and preventive services recommended during that visit. The majority of patients went to family practice physicians, internal medicine providers or psychiatrists.
Using information from the NAMCS, the researchers analyzed the treatment patterns of patients 18 and older who reported sleep problems.
Nearly two-thirds of those visits resulted in medication prescriptions for a person's sleep difficulties, and three-quarters of those prescriptions were for a benzodiazepine. (Five of the 13 kinds of benzodiazepines on the market in the United States are indicated f
Contact: Rajesh Balkrishnan
Ohio State University