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Open Access Research article

Change in healthcare utilization and costs following initiation of benzodiazepine therapy for long-term treatment of generalized anxiety disorder: a retrospective cohort study

Ariel Berger1*, John Edelsberg1, Michael Treglia2, Jose Ma J Alvir2 and Gerry Oster1

Author affiliations

1 Policy Analysis Inc. (PAI), Brookline, MA, USA

2 Pfizer Inc, New York, NY, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Psychiatry 2012, 12:177  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-12-177

Published: 23 October 2012



Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, and benzodiazepine anxiolytics are used in the US to treat generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). While benzodiazepines typically provide rapid symptomatic relief, long-term use is not recommended due to risks of dependency, sedation, falls, and accidents.


Using a US health insurance database, we identified all persons with GAD (ICD-9-CM diagnosis code 300.02) who began a long-term course of treatment (≥90 days) with a benzodiazepine anxiolytic between 1/1/2003 and 12/31/2007, We compared healthcare utilization and costs over the six-month periods preceding and following the date of treatment initiation (“pretreatment” and “post-treatment”, respectively), and focused attention on accident-related encounters (e.g., for treatment of fractures) and care received for other reasons possibly related benzodiazepine use (e.g., sedation, dizziness).


A total of 866 patients met all study entry criteria; 25% of patients began treatment on an add-on basis (i.e., adjunctive to escitalopram, paroxetine, sertraline, or venlafaxine), while 75% of patients did not receive concomitant therapy. Mean total healthcare costs increased by $2334 between the pretreatment and post-treatment periods (from $4637 [SD=$9840] to $6971 [$17,002]; p<0.01); costs of accident-related encounters and other care that was possibly related to use of benzodiazepines increased by an average of $1099 ($1757 [$7656] vs $2856 [$14,836]; p=0.03).


Healthcare costs increase in patients with GAD beginning long-term (≥90 days) treatment with a benzodiazepine anxiolytic; a substantial proportion of this increase is attributable to care associated with accidents and other known sequelae of long-term benzodiazepine use.

Anxiety Disorders; Benzodiazepines; Utilization; Costs and Cost Analysis; Healthcare Research