Deprescribing benzodiazepine receptor agonists: Evidence-based clinical practice guideline. Academic Article uri icon

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  • OBJECTIVE: To develop an evidence-based guideline to help clinicians make decisions about when and how to safely taper and stop benzodiazepine receptor agonists (BZRAs); to focus on the highest level of evidence available and seek input from primary care professionals in the guideline development, review, and endorsement processes. METHODS: The overall team comprised 8 clinicians (1 family physician, 2 psychiatrists, 1 clinical psychologist, 1 clinical pharmacologist, 2 clinical pharmacists, and 1 geriatrician) and a methodologist; members disclosed conflicts of interest. For guideline development, a systematic process was used, including the GRADE (Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation) approach. Evidence was generated by conducting a systematic review of BZRA deprescribing trials for insomnia, as well as performing a review of reviews of the harms of continued BZRA use and narrative syntheses of patient preferences and resource implications. This evidence and GRADE quality of evidence ratings were used to generate recommendations. The team refined guideline content and recommendations through consensus and synthesized clinical considerations to address front-line clinician questions. The draft guideline was reviewed by clinicians and stakeholders. RECOMMENDATIONS: We recommend that deprescribing (tapering slowly) of BZRAs be offered to elderly adults (≥ 65 years) who take BZRAs, regardless of duration of use, and suggest that deprescribing (tapering slowly) be offered to adults aged 18 to 64 who have used BZRAs for more than 4 weeks. These recommendations apply to patients who use BZRAs to treat insomnia on its own (primary insomnia) or comorbid insomnia where potential underlying comorbidities are effectively managed. This guideline does not apply to those with other sleep disorders or untreated anxiety, depression, or other physical or mental health conditions that might be causing or aggravating insomnia. CONCLUSION: Benzodiazepine receptor agonists are associated with harms, and therapeutic effects might be short term. Tapering BZRAs improves cessation rates compared with usual care without serious harms. Patients might be more amenable to deprescribing conversations if they understand the rationale (potential for harm), are involved in developing the tapering plan, and are offered behavioural advice. This guideline provides recommendations for making decisions about when and how to reduce and stop BZRAs. Recommendations are meant to assist with, not dictate, decision making in conjunction with patients.


  • Pottie, Kevin
  • Thompson, Wade
  • Davies, Simon
  • Grenier, Jean
  • Sadowski, Cheryl A
  • Welch, Vivian
  • Holbrook, Anne Marie
  • Boyd, Cynthia
  • Swenson, Robert
  • Ma, Andy
  • Farrell, Barbara

publication date

  • May 2018