Americans freaked out by the coronavirus crisis are increasingly turning to prescription drugs to calm their nerves, according to a report Monday.
Health-research firm IQVIA found that prescriptions for anti-anxiety drugs spiked 10.2 percent in March, to 9.7 million, compared with 8.8 million during the same month last year, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Meanwhile, prescriptions for antidepressants rose 9.2 percent, from 27.2 million to 29.7 million, from March 2019 to March 2020.
Even more startling increases were reported by other companies — Express Scripts, a pharmacy benefit manager owned by Cigna, said that prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications rose 34.1 percent between mid-February and mid-March, according to the Journal.
Prescriptions for antidepressants and sleep medications increased 18.6 percent and 14.8 percent, respectively, according to Express Scripts.
Meanwhile, psychiatrists working for Ginger — a company that provides employers with video- and chat-based mental-health services for their workers — wrote 86 percent more scripts for psychotropic drugs, primarily antidepressants, in March and April 2020 than they did in January and February.
Dr. Bruce Schwartz, deputy chair and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, called the increased demand for the drugs “very problematic.”
“Many physicians have a low threshold for prescribing them,” he told the Journal. “Many people do develop a dependency on these medications.”
Dr. James Potash, director of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins Medicine, noted that the most popular anti-anxiety drugs were benzodiazepines such as Valium, Xanax, Ativan and Klonopin.
“They are powerful, and they are powerfully attractive in that they work instantly,” he said.
“You take Ativan, and 30 minutes later you are feeling dramatically less anxious.”
But Potash cautioned that although the drugs are effective for short-term treatment, users can develop a tolerance to their effects in as little as two weeks.
That can lead people to increase their intake, making it hard for them to stop gobbling down the pills — and leading to potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms when they finally do.
Dr. Beth Salcedo, a psychiatrist and the past president of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, said that the best ways to deal with anxiety included “exercising, eating well, avoiding alcohol and making sure we surround ourselves with our social support as much as possible.”
If those don’t work, she recommends a type of counseling known as “cognitive behavioral therapy,” possibly coupled with antidepressant medications like Lexapro and Prozac.