Home > Increased risk of non-fatal overdose associated with non-prescribed benzodiazepine use in Scotland, UK.

McAuley, A and Palmateer, N and Goldberg, D J and Shivaji, T and Ritchie, T and Licence, K and Carter, D and Hutchinson, S J (2023) Increased risk of non-fatal overdose associated with non-prescribed benzodiazepine use in Scotland, UK. International Journal of Drug Policy, Early online, 104236. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.drugpo.2023.104236.

External website: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/...

BACKGROUND Drug-related deaths (DRDs) in Scotland increased for seven years in a row between 2014 and 2020, consolidating Scotland's place at the top of the United Kingdom and European drug-related mortality charts. One of the defining features of this recent and rapid rise has been the role of benzodiazepines, which are now involved in the majority of all DRDs. These deaths are linked to use of non-prescribed, benzodiazepine-type novel psychoactive substances (NPS) which have been identified by the United Nations as a global threat to public health. This study aimed to estimate the prevalence and determinants of non-prescribed benzodiazepine use and its association with recent non-fatal overdose among a national sample of people who inject drugs (PWID).

METHODS Data from the 2019-20 Needle Exchange Surveillance Initiative (NESI) was analysed using logistic regression. NESI is a voluntary, anonymous, biennial, cross-sectional, bio-behavioural survey of PWID attending community-based services providing injecting equipment in mainland Scotland.

RESULTS Prevalence of non-prescribed benzodiazepine use in the past six months was 52% and significantly associated with age (aOR 0.97, 0.96-0.98), frequent incarceration (aOR 1.29, 1.07-1.57), recent public injecting (aOR 3.25, 2.33-4.55), a recent methadone prescription (aOR 1.87, 1.51-2.33), and a history of benzodiazepine prescription (aOR 1.92, 1.47-2.52). In addition, non-prescribed benzodiazepine use was significantly associated with non-fatal overdose in the past year among PWID (aOR 2.47, 1.90-3.21).

CONCLUSION This study found a high prevalence of non-prescribed benzodiazepine use among a national sample of PWID in Scotland. Prevalence was highest among populations known to be at increased risk of drug-related death and use was strongly associated with overdose. These novel findings highlight the scale of the non-prescribed benzodiazepine issue Scotland faces, and the urgency required to expand its harm reduction infrastructure to address this unique element of its overdose crisis.

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