A retrospective review on benzodiazepine use: A case study from a chronic dispensary unit

I Singh, F Oosthuizen


Background. Benzodiazepines (BZDs) are highly effective hypnotic and anxiolytic agents and among the most frequently used drugs in the world, but there are significant disadvantages associated with their use. Identifying possible irrational BZD prescribing is important to ensure safe and effective use of these agents. No studies have been conducted in other African countries, and this is the only study in the Western Cape (WC) Province of South Africa (SA), highlighting the paucity of local research.

Objectives. To identify the most commonly prescribed BZDs at a chronic dispensary unit (CDU) in the WC and describe the indications, co-prescribing patterns and patient factors in different areas of the WC.

Methods. A retrospective, quantitative study was carried out using prescription data from a CDU in the Western Cape Department of Health, SA. Data for January 2017 were analysed. Associations between BZD therapeutic indications and co-prescribing patterns were assessed, together with demographic data. Data were coded and descriptive and inferential analysis was done using Stata version 14.

Results. A total of 1 396 prescriptions met the inclusion criteria and were analysed. Overall, clonazepam was the most frequently prescribed BZD (n=691 prescriptions, 49.5%), followed by diazepam (n=298, 21.4%), lorazepam (n=222, 15.9%) and oxazepam (n=185, 13.3%). The most common therapeutic indication for BZDs was epilepsy (n=294, 21.1%), followed by depression (n=166, 11.9%) and depression with concomitant anxiety (n=79, 5.7%). The most common concomitant drug class associated with BZD use was antiepileptics (n=1 581), followed by other BZDs (n=706) and analgesics and antipyretics (n=665). Female patients were more likely than males to be prescribed BZDs (p<0.001), and the mean (standard deviation) age of BZD users was 51.3 (19.5) years.

Conclusions. BZDs were most commonly prescribed to female patients and middle-aged adults. Clonazepam was the most frequently prescribed BZD, indicating a preference for long-acting BZDs. Epilepsy was the most common therapeutic indication and antiepileptics were the most common concomitant drug class prescribed, implying that BZDs have a primary role in the management of epileptic conditions in the public healthcare sector. Future studies should include the private sector, as regulations in the public sector greatly influence the patterns of BZD use.



Authors' affiliations

I Singh, Discipline of Pharmaceutical Sciences, School of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

F Oosthuizen, Discipline of Pharmaceutical Sciences, School of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

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Benzodiazepines; Chronic dispensary unit; Prescribing patterns

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2019;109(2):127-132. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2019.v109i2.13347

Article History

Date submitted: 2019-01-31
Date published: 2019-01-31

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