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Drug Makes A Wreck Of Elderly Drivers

Wed., July 2, 1997

One of the most commonly prescribed medications for the elderly increases the rate of car accidents among older patients by 45 percent during the first week they take it, a study has found.

Benzodiazepine, a family of medications that includes Valium, is given to elderly patients wrestling with insomnia and anxiety, the researchers said. It works by relaxing the central nervous system.

“Taking this medication is like having two glasses of beer or two to three glasses of wine,” said Dr. Samy Suissa, who spearheaded the study. Suissa works at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, Canada, where the study was done.

Suissa said the increased risk was 26 percent, even after a year of use.

There are two forms of benzodiazepine, the researchers said. One form remains in the body for a long period of time; the other is eliminated from the body within 24 hours.

Long-acting benzodiazepines include Valium (diazepam), clonazepam (Klonopin), clorazepate (Tranxene), chlordiazepoxide (Librium, Librax), flurazepam (Dalmane) and nitrazepam. No elevated risk was linked to the short-acting drugs: alprazolam (Xanax), bromazepam, lorazepam (Ativan), oxazepam (Serax), temazepam (Restoril) and triazolam (Halcion).

Researchers followed 224,734 drivers, aged 67 to 84, from 1990 to 1993. They studied driver’s license files, police reports and insurance records.

The study was to be reported in today’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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