Norwegian Study Finds COPD Sufferers Prescribed Sedatives At Alarmingly High Rates

Patrícia Silva, PhD avatar

by Patrícia Silva, PhD |

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elderly COPD and sedatives

Recent data obtained from a study published in the International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease entitled “Benzodiazepine use in COPD: empirical evidence from Norway highlighted the misuse of benzodiazepine sedatives among COPD patients. The data, which was taken from the Norwegian Patient Register and the Prescriptions Register, included 5,380 patients diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) who were admitted to the hospital in 2009. Dr. Thomas Halvorsen, a health services researcher at SINTEF and former SINTEF researcher Pål Erling Martinussen, (now an associate professor at NTNU), revealed that as many as 69% of these patients received addictive sedating medications in the form of benzodiazepine. What was even more alarming was the fact that fewer psychotic patients (only 52%) received lower doses of benzodiazepine than COPD patients.

In the study, women were observed to be prescribed as much as 25% more of these harmful drugs than men. The prescribed drugs inhibited lung function and were concluded to have potentially fatal consequences if taken disproportionately. Because COPD is a gradually progressive disease that affects older people more than their younger counterparts, the elderly are particularly at risk of adverse effects caused by benzodiazepine since they have lower tolerance levels for these addictive medications.

The main purpose of doctors resorting to prescription use of benzodiazepines for COPD patients is to lower the physical stress caused by exacerbations and flare-ups during the disease’s progression. However, deeper insights into what leads to the use of high doses of these sedatives revealed a lack of communication between hospital-care providers and general practitioners (GPs) treating the same patients immediately after discharge, as well as contact with different doctors in the course of receiving COPD-related treatments. In other words, the more points of contact a COPD patient had within the healthcare system, the greater the volume of sedatives prescribed.

Researchers argue that a solution to this growing problem lies in the fact that doctors and GPs should coordinate patient consultation visits among each other to balance the amount of drugs prescribed and utilize alternate therapies like coping techniques and conversational therapies to maintain patient health.

A related study is being coordinated by researcher and general practitioner Arnulf Langhammer at the Nord-Trøndelag medical research centre (HUNT) to analyze patients suffering from acute COPD who have major issues related to anxiety caused as a result of exacerbations and breathing problems. Treating anxiety through alternate, non-drug related methods is the main aim of the study. “This is a helpful wake-up call and should contribute towards stimulating greater efforts in promoting the uses of non-drug treatment strategies for anxiety before patients with COPD develop the disease in its acute form,” said the researcher. “However, both benzodiazepines and low doses of opiates will continue to be important treatments for the alleviation of symptoms among patients suffering from acute cases of COPD.”