Clinical Drug Investigation

, Volume 36, Issue 7, pp 519–530 | Cite as

Benzodiazepine Use, Misuse, and Harm at the Population Level in Canada: A Comprehensive Narrative Review of Data and Developments Since 1995

  • Yoko Murphy
  • Emily Wilson
  • Elliot M. Goldner
  • Benedikt Fischer
Review Article


Benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed psycho-pharmaceuticals (e.g., for anxiety, tension, and insomnia); they are generally considered safe but have potential adverse effects. Benzodiazepine use in Canada versus internationally is comparably high, yet no recent comprehensive review of use, misuse, or related (e.g., morbidity, mortality) harm at the population level exists; the present review aimed to fill this gap. We searched four key scientific literature databases (Medline, CINAHL, EBM Reviews, and Web of Science) with relevant search terms, and collected relevant “gray literature” (e.g., survey, monitoring, government reports) data published in 1995–2015. Two reviewers conducted data screening and extraction; results were categorized and narratively summarized by key sub-topics. Levels of benzodiazepine use in the general population have been relatively stable in recent years; medical use is generally highest among older adults. Rates of non-medical use are fairly low in general but higher in marginalized (e.g., street drug use) populations; high and/or inappropriate prescribing appears common in older adults. Benzodiazepines are associated with various morbidity outcomes (e.g., accidents/injuries, cognitive decline, sleep disturbances, or psychiatric issues), again commonly observed in older adults; moreover, benzodiazepines are identified as a contributing factor in suicides and poisoning deaths. Overall there is a substantial benzodiazepine-related health problem burden—although lower than that for other psycho-medications (e.g., opioids)—in Canada, mainly as a result of overuse and/or morbidity. National benzodiazepine prescription guidelines are lacking, and few evaluated interventions to reduce benzodiazepine-related problems exist. There is a clear need for reducing inappropriate benzodiazepine use and related harm in Canada through improved evidence-based practice as well as monitoring and control.


Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease British Columbia Zopiclone Methadone Maintenance Treatment Prescription Opioid 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Compliance with Ethical Standards


Dr. Fischer acknowledges funding support from a Canadian Institutes of Health Research [CIHR/Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC)] Applied Public Health Research Chair Award, and the CIHR CRISM Node Team Grant (SMN-139150). The other authors have no funding to declare.

Conflict of interest

Yoko Murphy, Emily Wilson, Elliot M. Goldner, and Benedikt Fischer have no conflicts of interest to declare.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yoko Murphy
    • 1
  • Emily Wilson
    • 2
  • Elliot M. Goldner
    • 2
  • Benedikt Fischer
    • 1
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.Social and Epidemiological Research, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)TorontoCanada
  2. 2.Faculty of Health SciencesCentre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addictions (CARMHA), Simon Fraser UniversityVancouverCanada
  3. 3.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  4. 4.Institute of Medical ScienceUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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