(HealthDay News) — A substantial number of US adults who are prescribed opioids also are prescribed a dual combination of anxiolytic and sedative medications, according to a report published online in Regional Anesthesia & Pain Medicine.

Brian D. Sites, MD, from the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire, and colleagues conducted a cross-sectional study using data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) to examine the prevalence of dual anxiolytic/sedative therapy among US opioid users. A sample of 10,700 adult prescription opioid users was identified after aggregating MEPS data for 2016 to 2019. By weighting the sample population, national estimates were made.

The researchers estimate that 2.60 million adult Americans (1.0% of the adult population) received prescriptions for an opioid, benzodiazepine, and nonbenzodiazepine sedative annually. Overall, 9.2% of the 28.4 million prescription opioid users were also prescribed dual anxiolytic/sedative therapy. Within this group, an annual average of 24.7 prescriptions were filled for opioids, benzodiazepines, and nonbenzodiazepine sedatives per person. Dual sedative/anxiolytic therapy use was most common among middle-aged adults, women, and non-Hispanic White opioid users. Dual therapy rates were highest for opioid users with severe pain, anxiety, depression, stress-related disorders, and sleep disorders. The dual prescription rate was 18.4% for high-volume prescribing (f5 or more prescriptions per year).

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“Given the potential dangers of this polypharmacy approach, future studies are warranted to determine the level of safety, especially among vulnerable populations,” the authors write.

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