Healthcare Policy

Healthcare Policy 14(4) May 2019 : 39-51.doi:10.12927/hcpol.2019.25857
Research Paper

Policies for Deprescribing: An International Scan of Intended and Unintended Outcomes of Limiting Sedative-Hypnotic Use in Community-Dwelling Older Adults

James Shaw, Andrea L. Murphy, Justin P. Turner, David M. Gardner, James L. Silvius, Zachary Bouck, Dara Gordon and Cara Tannenbaum


Policies have been put in place internationally to reduce the overuse of certain medications that have a high risk of harm, such as sedative-hypnotic drugs for insomnia or opioids for chronic non-cancer pain. We explore and compare the outcomes of policies aimed at deprescribing sedative-hypnotic medication in community-dwelling older adults. Prescription monitoring policies led to the highest rate of discontinuation but triggered inappropriate substitutions. Financial deterrents through insurance scheme delistings increased patient out-of-pocket spending and had minimal impact. Pay-for-performance incentives to prescribers proved ineffective. Rescheduling alprazolam to a controlled substance raised the street drug price of the drug and shifted use to other benzodiazepines, causing similar rates of overdose deaths. Driving safety policies and jurisdiction-wide educational campaigns promoting non-drug alternatives appear most promising for achieving intended outcomes and avoiding unintended harms. Sustainable change should be supported with direct-to-patient education and improved access to non-drug therapy, with an emphasis on evaluating both intended and unintended consequences of any deprescribing-oriented policy.



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