Toxicity of nitrazepam in the elderly: a report from the Boston Collaborative Drug Surveillance Program

British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology
David J Greenblatt, M D Allen


1 To assess the potential hazards of nitrazepam therapy of insomnia in the elderly, adverse reactions to nitrazepam were studied in 2111 hospitalized medical patients who received the drug. 2 Manifestations of unwanted central nervous system (CNS) depression (such as drowsiness or 'hangover') were reported in 49 nitrazepam recipients (2.3%), and signs of unwanted CNS stimulation (such as nightmares, insomnia, agitation, etc.) in 15 (0.7%). None of the adverse reactions were considered serious. 3 Physician-rated clinical efficacy of nitrazepam was not related to dose, but the frequency of both types of adverse reactions increased significantly at higher daily doses. CNS depression also was significantly more frequent in the elderly, being reported in 11% of those aged 80 years or older, whereas the frequency of CNS stimulation was not correlated with age. 4 The effect of age on the reported rate of unwanted CNS depression was most striking at high doses. Among patients aged 80 years or over whose daily dose averaged 10 mg or more, 55% experienced unwanted CNS depression attributed to nitrazepam. 5 Low doses of nitrazepam are safe for elderly individuals, but the elderly are readily susceptible to excessive CNS depression at high...Continue Reading


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