More people are taking medication for anxiety and insomnia amid the coronavirus pandemic, The Wall Street Journal reports.
The rise in prescriptions for anti-anxiety, depression and sleep aids have some doctors concerned about the possibility of addiction and long-term abuse of the drugs, the newspaper reports.
Prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications, such as Klonopin and Ativan, rose 10.2% in the U.S. to 9.7 million in March 2020 from 8.8 million in March 2019, according to data from health-research firm IQVIA. Prescriptions for antidepressants, including Prozac and Lexapro, rose 9.2% to 29.7 million from 27.2 million in the same period.
“Many physicians have a low threshold for prescribing them. It’s very problematic,” Bruce J. Schwartz, deputy chair and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Montefiore Medical Center in New York told the newspaper. “Many people do develop a dependency on these medications.”
Some drug companies have reported even higher spikes. Express Scripts reported prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications rose 34.1% between mid-February and mid-March, while prescriptions for antidepressants and sleep medications increased 18.6% and 14.8%, respectively.
Ginger, which supplies video- and chat-based mental health services, reported its psychiatrists wrote 86% more prescriptions for psychotropic drugs, primarily antidepressants, in March and April 2020 compared with January and February.
More than one-third of Americans reported that the pandemic is having a “serious impact” on their mental health, according to a survey released March 25 by the American Psychiatric Association.
“This kind of chronic stress brings about, for all those people who have never had anxiety before, it sort of overwhelms them,” Charles B. Nemeroff, professor and chair of the department of psychiatry at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin and president-elect of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America told the newspaper. “If you’ve lost your job, if you’re worried if you’ll have enough food for your kids, that will keep you up at night.”
Some doctors are concerned that the powerful, nearly instant relief the drugs provide will cause people to become hooked on them.
“They are powerful, and they are powerfully attractive in that they work instantly,” James Potash, director of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins Medicine told the newspaper. “You take Ativan, and 30 minutes later you are feeling dramatically less anxious.”
Dr. Potash said he advises patients to limit their use to weeks, not months. He said people often become tolerant of the drugs quickly, which can then lead patients to increase their dosage and become dependent.
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