Background: Long-term use of benzodiazepine medication has been increasing sharply inside and outside of VA, raising the risk of cognitive decline, falls, and overdose among patients. A self-directed benzodiazepine tapering intervention known as EMPOWER was shown effective in a non-VA clinical trial, and within VA there is significant interest in tailoring it to and providing it for Veterans. Significance: Although often useful as short-term medications, when taken for extended periods benzodiazepines carry risk of cognitive decline and other brain damage, falls and other accidents, benzodiazepine dependence and opioid-benzodiazepine overdose (VA Pharmacy Benefits Management Academic Detailing Service, 2017). This is major concern within VA, which prescribes benzodiazepines to over 350,000 Veterans a year, 2/3 of whom take them long-term (i.e., 3 months or more) (VA Pharmacy Benefits Management Academic Detailing Service, 2017). Innovation: Because the EMPOWER intervention was paper-and- pencil based, it would be useful to convert it to an electronic version that worked on smart phones, tablets, and/or desktop computers. Accordingly, the proposed project intends to convert EMPOWER to electronic format and to tailor it to the needs and preferences of the Veteran population.
Specific Aims :
Aim 1 : Tailor a promising non-VA benzodiazepine cessation intervention (EMPOWER) to Veterans and simultaneously convert it from paper-and-pencil to electronic format.
Aim 2 : Conduct a randomized clinical trial of the effectiveness of the tailored, electronic intervention (EMPOWER-ED) on VA primary care patients? benzodiazepine cessation/reduction and functional outcomes.
Aim 3 : Conduct a budget impact analysis to estimate the costs of implementing the EMPOWER-ED throughout VA. Methodology: This conversion and tailoring will be an iterative process that the project team will conduct via focus groups comprising Veterans, VA primary care providers, and VA operational partners. When the revised intervention, called EMPOWER-ED (for EMPOWER ?Electronically Delivered?), is fully designed and has been successfully beta-tested by Veterans, its effectiveness will be evaluated in a randomized clinical trial with 170 Veterans who have been on benzodiazepines for at least 3 months. The primary hypothesis of the study is that those receiving EMPOWER-ED will be significantly more likely than controls to cease benzodiazepines entirely, and, to reduce their dose by at least 25%, at 6-month follow-up. The secondary hypothesis is that Veterans receiving EMPOWER-ED will also experience fewer anxiety symptoms, better sleep quality, and overall health/quality of life at 6-month follow-up. A supplemental analysis of benzodiazepine use only will be conducted using VA databases at 12 months to evaluate whether changes identified at 6 months persist over time. The VA operational partners of the project team (Pharmacy Benefits Management, Psychotropic Drug Safety Initiative, and Office of Connected Care) are committed to disseminating EMPOWER-ED if it proves successful. Therefore, a third aim of the study is to undertake a budget impact analysis to determine what the costs would be to implement EMPOWER-ED in the VA systemwide. Next Steps/Implementation: Because electronically-delivered interventions are inexpensive to disseminate once they have been developed, this project has an excellent chance to promote health care value by creating an easily scaled-up, method of reducing the prevalence of a widespread risk to Veterans? health.

Public Health Relevance

Long-term use of a class of medications known as benzodiazepines raises risk of cognitive problems, falls, addiction, and overdose. One method of helping patients who have been on these medications for extended periods is to provide them with information regarding how to taper off. This study develops such a self-tapering tool for use as a smart phone app and tests whether it works in a sample of 170 Veterans and how much it would cost to make the tool widely accessible.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Veterans Affairs (VA)
Non-HHS Research Projects (I01)
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HSR-1 Medical Care and Clinical Management (HSR1)
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Veterans Admin Palo Alto Health Care Sys
Palo Alto
United States
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