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May 21, 2010
Drugs to treat anxiety and sleep disorders are still being prescribed for extended periods to British Columbian patients – and increasingly so for baby boomers – despite warnings against long-term use, according to a University of British Columbia study.
Published online in the journal Health Policy, the study by researchers at UBC’s Centre for Health Services and Policy Research (CHSPR) is the first of its kind to examine the use of benzodiazepines such as Xanax and Ativan for an entire population over time. It’s also the first to pinpoint the socio-economic characteristics associated with long-term users of such drugs.
Results show that seniors and low-income earners are more likely to be long-term users of benzodiazepines, with rates remaining steady over a 10-year period. Meanwhile, use among the middle-aged population has increased. Harms associated with long-term use (more than 100 days in a year) can include dependence and tolerance, cognitive impairment, and increased risks of falls in the elderly.
“Given the potential for dependence and harms associated with these drugs, they are recommended to be used sparingly for short periods,” says Colleen Cunningham, CHSPR researcher and lead author of the study. “However, our study suggests that a significant number of British Columbians – especially the elderly who suffer greater health risks from falls – are using them for long periods.”