Considerable concern has been expressed about overprescribing of benzodiazepines and related harms. Past analyses have relied on World Health Organization-defined daily doses (DDD) which are sometimes out of keeping with clinical usage. This study examines 20-year (1992-2011) trends of benzodiazepine dispensing in Australia using both DDD and Ashton equivalent dose.
Data from the Drug Utilisation Sub-Committee and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) website were analysed. Trends in number of prescriptions, DDD/1000 people/day and DDD/prescription were examined over time, and between states/territories.
In the 20-year period, 174 080 904 scripts were recorded, with temazepam the most dispensed benzodiazepine (35% of scripts), followed by diazepam (23%). Overall recorded utilisation fell from 27.7 DDD/1000 people/day in 1992 to 20.8 in 2011 (24.9% decrease). There were striking changes in use of individual benzodiazepines over time, with reductions in oxazepam and flunitrazepam and dramatic increases in alprazolam. Since 1998, there has been a steady increase, albeit modest, in per script DDD. The DDD/1000 people/day for items dispensed through PBS/Repatriaton-PBS was highest in Tasmania and lowest in Northern Territory.
Despite a modest overall decline in the amount of benzodiazepine dispensed, the level of use is still likely to reflect relative over-prescribing given the paucity of accepted indications for long-term use. Since 1998, there was a polynomial increase in quantity dispensed per script. The WHO-defined DDD for clonazepam seems inappropriate and could impede monitoring of its abuse. Other problems include lack of national data for medications not subsidised on PBS/Repatriation PBS. A broad policy approach is required, not one which targets only one particular benzodiazepine.