Sex differences in US emergency department non-fatal visits for benzodiazepine poisonings in adolescents and young adults

Greta A. Bushnell, Mark Olfson, Silvia S. Martins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Background: Benzodiazepine (BZD)-related overdose deaths have risen in the past decade and BZD misuse contributes to thousands of emergency department (ED) visits annually, with the highest rates in adolescents and young adults. Because there are gaps in understanding BZD poisoning in youth and whether differences occur by sex, we aimed to characterize BZD poisoning ED visits in young people by sex. Methods: BZD poisoning visits were identified in the Nationwide Emergency Department Sample, among adolescents (12−17 years) and young adults (18−29 years). Stratified by sex and age, we described ED visits for BZD poisonings in 2016, including poisoning intent, concurrent substances involved, and co-occurring mental health disorder diagnoses. With logistic regression we examined the association between intent and concurrent substance. Results: There were approximately 38,000 BZD poisoning ED visits by young people nationwide with annual population rates per 10,000 of 2.9=adolescents and 5.8=young adults. Depression was diagnosed in 40 % of female and 23 % of male BZD visits (p < 0.01). Over half of BZD poisonings in females and a third in males were intentional (p < 0.01). Male BZD visits were more likely to involve opioids or cannabis and less likely to involve antidepressants than females (p-values<0.01). In males and females, BZD poisonings concurrent with antidepressants and other psychotropic medications were more likely to be intentional than unintentional (OR range:2.1–6.3). Conclusions: The high proportion of BZD poisonings that are intentional and include mental health disorder diagnoses, especially among young females, underscore the importance of ED mental health and suicide risk assessment with appropriate follow-up referral.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number108609
JournalDrug and Alcohol Dependence
StatePublished - Apr 1 2021
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


  • Adolescents
  • Benzodiazepine
  • Emergency department
  • Poisoning
  • Sex


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