Anti-Anxiety Meds Tied to Doubled Death Risk

Anxiety and sleeping medications linked to premature death but more factors need study

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Prescription medications were designed to help prevent illness and death, not cause it. But new research suggests some common medications could increase the risk of an early death.

Researchers examined the link between early death and taking anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) and/or hypnotic (sleeping) medications.

This study showed that people who used those types of medications faced a significantly higher chance of early death than people who did not.

"Discuss the risks of your prescription medications with a pharmacist."

Scott Weich, MSc, professor of psychiatry in the Division of Mental Health and Wellbeing at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom, led this research.

Weich and colleagues gathered prescription medication records from 273 primary care practices in the United Kingdom.

From those records, the team studied 34,727 patients, ages 16 and older, who were treated with anxiolytic medications, hypnotic medications or both between 1998 and 2001.

The researchers then compared that group to 69,418 patients with no prescriptions for those two categories of medication. The researchers followed up with the participants over a more than seven year period.

This study showed that patients who were prescribed anxiolytic and/or hypnotic medications were almost twice as likely to die prematurely compared to those who did not take such medications.

Specifically, Weich found that rate of death over the study period among participants who used the two types of medications was 26.46 individuals out of every 100. 

That’s compared to a death rate of 16.82 per 100 people who did not take those medications.

When the researchers excluded deaths in the first year of the study period, there were approximately four excess deaths linked to drug use per 100 people followed for an average of 7.6 years after their first prescription.

Weich and team concluded, “These results add to evidence of an association with mortality, but must be treated with caution.”

The researchers acknowledged some limitations to their study, particularly unmeasured factors such as socioeconomic status.

Weich and team also noted that anxiolytic and hypnotic medications are “addictive and associated with cognitive and psychomotor impairment, falls and unintentional injuries.”

This study was published in BMJ on March 19.

The UK Medical Research Council and Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency provided access to the data used for the research. There was no specific funding source.

The authors did not report any conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
April 3, 2014
Last Updated:
April 3, 2014