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Benzodiazepine Overdoses Among Teens Up Dramatically

January 10, 2020

Over the past decade, the rate of benzodiazepine exposures and overdoses among adolescents has significantly grown, and medical outcomes have become more severe. Researchers published the findings online in Clinical Toxicology.

“While benzodiazepine overdose by itself is typically not life-threatening, the findings of this study show an increase in teens taking one or more additional substances, which increases the severity of the effects, including death or life-threatening symptoms that can affect future health,” said study coauthor Diane Calello, MD, executive and medical director of the New Jersey Poison Control Center in the department of emergency medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, Newark.

Researchers used information from the National Poison Data System to assess trends in pediatric benzodiazepine exposures from 2000 to 2015.

Over the 16-year period, 296,838 benzodiazepine exposures in children age 0 through 18 were reported to US Poison Control Centers, according to the study.

VIDEO: Examining the Risks and Benefits From Benzodiazepines

Although benzodiazepine exposures involving children younger than age 6 decreased over the years, exposures among youth ages 12 to 18 increased 54%—from 17.7 exposures per 100,000 adolescents in 2000 to 27.3 exposures per 100,000 adolescents in 2015. Almost half of all exposures reported in 2015 were categorized as intentional abuse, misuse, or attempted suicide, researchers reported, emphasizing a change from prior years.

Most pediatric exposures involved alprazolam, clonazepam, and lorazepam.

“Our study group found that the increasing rate of reported benzodiazepine exposures appear to reflect the increasing rate of benzodiazepine prescriptions that have been reported across the United States over the past decade,” Dr. Calello said. 

“Medical providers should be aware of the increased prevalence of benzodiazepine exposures to help limit unnecessary prescribing. Parents and caregivers must be counseled on the proper use, storage, and disposal of these high-risk medications.”

—Jolynn Tumolo 


Friedrich JM, Sun C, Geng X, et al. Child and adolescent benzodiazepine exposure and overdose in the United States: 16 years of poison center data. Clinical Toxicology. 2019 October 15;[Epub ahead of print].

Verbanas P. Teen overdoses from anxiety drug rising [press release]. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey; December 13, 2019.

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