A Controlled Trial of Ondansetron, a 5-HT3 Antagonist, in Benzodiazepine Discontinuation

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Serotonin is implicated in the etiology of anxiety disorders and in the anxiolytic actions of benzodiazepines.Preclinical studies with 5-HT (3) receptor antagonists, including ondansetron, show they have anxiolytic properties and that ondansetron suppresses withdrawal anxiety after abrupt discontinuation of chronic benzodiazepine treatment. We evaluated the efficacy of ondansetron as an adjunctive medication in the discontinuation of benzodiazepines in long-term users. One hundred eight patients who had used alprazolam or lorazepam regularly for > 3 months entered, and 97 completed a randomized double-blind discontinuation treatment program during which they received either ondansetron 2 mg twice daily or placebo and flexibly tapered their benzodiazepine over a 6-week period. There were no significant differences between the patients who had entered and completed treatment. Three weeks postmedication, 63% of the patients discontinued use of benzodiazepine. The percentage of reduction of benzodiazepine daily dosage at all time points in the treatment trial was similar for the ondansetron and placebo groups. Ondansetron had no significant effects on severity of withdrawal symptoms or levels of anxiety. High placebo response may have prevented detection of an ondansetron effect. At 1 year follow-up, 68% of patients reported that they stopped using benzodiazepine. Patient characteristics were more important than ondansetron in tapered benzodiazepine discontinuation. (J Clin Psychopharmacol 1998;18:121-131)

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