Medication prescribing is a complex process where the focus tends to be on starting new medication, changing a drug regimen, and continuing a drug regimen. On occasion, a prudent approach to prescribing may necessitate ending an ongoing course of medication, either because it should not have been started in the first place; because its continued use would cause harm; or because the medication is no longer effective.
To identify effective strategies for stopping pre-existing prescribing in situations where continued prescribing may no longer be clinically warranted.
Systematic searches for English-language reports of experimental and quasi-experimental research were conducted in PubMed (1951-November 2009), EMBASE (1966-September 2008), and International Pharmaceutical Abstract b (1970-September 2008). A manual search for relevant review articles and a keyword search of a local database produced by a previous systematic search for prescribing influence and intervention research were also conducted.
Following initial title screening for relevance 2 reviewers, using formal assessment and data extraction tools, independently assessed abstracts for relevance and full studies for quality before extracting data from studies selected for inclusion.
Of 1306 articles reviewed, 12 were assessed to be of relevant, high-quality research. A variety of drugs were examined in the included studies with benzodiazepines the most common. Studies included in the review tested 9 different types of interventions. Effective interventions included patient-mediated interventions, manual reminders to prescribers, educational materials given to patients, a face-to-face intervention with prescribers, and a case of regulatory intervention. Partially effective interventions included audit and feedback, electronic reminders, educational materials alone sent to prescribers, and distance communication combined with educational materials sent to prescribers.
It appears possible to stop the prescribing of a variety of medications with a range of interventions. A common theme in effective interventions is the involvement of patients in the stopping process. However, prescribing at the level of individual patients was rarely reported, with data often aggregated to number of doses or number of drugs per unit population, attributing any reduction to cessation. Such studies are not measuring the actual required outcome (stopping prescribing), and this may reflect the broader ambiguity about when or why it might be important to end a prescription. Much more research is required into the process of stopping pre-existing prescribing, paying particular attention to improving the outcomes that are measured.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: To re-examine various aspects of the benzodiazepines (BZDs), widely prescribed for 50 years, mainly to treat anxiety and insomnia. It is a descriptive review based on the Okey Lecture delivered at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, in November 2010.
A search of the literature was carried out in the Medline, Embase and Cochrane Collaboration databases, using the codeword 'benzodiazepine(s)', alone and in conjunction with various terms such as 'dependence', 'abuse', etc. Further hand-searches were made based on the reference lists of key papers. As 60,000 references were found, this review is not exhaustive. It concentrates on the adverse effects, dependence and abuse.
Almost from their introduction the BZDs have been controversial, with polarized opinions, advocates pointing out their efficacy, tolerability and patient acceptability, opponents deprecating their adverse effects, dependence and abuse liability. More recently, the advent of alternative and usually safer medications has opened up the debate. The review noted a series of adverse effects that continued to cause concern, such as cognitive and psychomotor impairment. In addition, dependence and abuse remain as serious problems. Despite warnings and guidelines, usage of these drugs remains at a high level. The limitations in their use both as choice of therapy and with respect to conservative dosage and duration of use are highlighted. The distinction between low-dose 'iatrogenic' dependence and high-dose abuse/misuse is emphasized.
The practical problems with the benzodiazepines have persisted for 50 years, but have been ignored by many practitioners and almost all official bodies. The risk-benefit ratio of the benzodiazepines remains positive in most patients in the short term (2-4 weeks) but is unestablished beyond that time, due mainly to the difficulty in preventing short-term use from extending indefinitely with the risk of dependence. Other research issues include the possibility of long-term brain changes and evaluating the role of the benzodiazepine antagonist, flumazenil, in aiding withdrawal.
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