Cover: Trends in Overdose Deaths Involving Gabapentinoids and Z-drugs in the United States

Trends in Overdose Deaths Involving Gabapentinoids and Z-drugs in the United States

Published in: Drug and Alcohol Dependence, Volume 249 (August 2023). doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2023.109952

Posted on Jul 7, 2023

by David Powell, Kanaka Shetty, Evan D. Peet


As policies have been implemented to limit access to prescription opioids, other drugs have been prescribed off-label, sometimes concurrently with opioids, to manage pain. There are concerns about the use of gabapentinoids and "Z-drugs" with opioids. As the opioid crisis transitions to illicit opioids and polysubstance use, little work quantifies the concurrent involvement of non-opioid prescription drugs and illicit opioids in overdose deaths.


Data from the census of deaths in the United States for 1999-2020 were used to understand trends in deaths involving gabapentinoids/Z-drugs and opioid co-involvement. These trends were studied overall and by sex, race, age, and education.


Per capita overdose deaths involving gabapentinoids/Z-drugs increased almost continuously since 1999, averaging 15.8% annual growth. This rate increased to 32% in 2020, primarily due to overdoses involving synthetic opioids. Women typically had higher rates of overdose deaths involving both opioids and gabapentinoids/Z-drugs, though this disparity disappeared in 2020. White Americans and American Indians/Alaskan Natives historically had higher rates than other racial groups; however, Black Americans experienced over 60% annual growth in recent years. Low education groups have been disproportionately impacted. The age incidence tends to be older than overdoses involving opioids more generally.


Overdose deaths involving opioids and gabapentinoids/Z-drugs have tended to disproportionately affect women and older age groups compared to all opioid-involved overdoses. As deaths involving synthetic opioids likely reflect use of illicitly-obtained opioids, there may be less of a role for policies targeting the concurrent prescribing of gabapentinoids/Z-drugs with opioids to reduce these deaths.

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