Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Americans are using more anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications, says a recent report published by Express Scripts.

The coronavirus pandemic has caused a lot of uncertainty and fear in the couple months. With people wondering when life will return to normal and feeling isolated due to “stay at home” orders, there has been a dramatic rise in the prescription of anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications. Express Scripts, a pharmacy benefit management company, provided analysis that showed a 21% increase in anti-anxiety, antidepressant, and anti-insomnia medication between the dates of February 16 and March 15. The peak of prescriptions occurred during the end of the week of March 15, when the WHO (World Health Organization) declared the coronavirus spread to be a pandemic. This also coincided with when the U.S. declared a state of national emergency. Breaking down the numbers further, we see anxiety medication prescriptions increasing the most at 34.1%, antidepressant medication up by 18.6%, and insomnia medication up by 14.8%.

Prescription rates for these medications was higher for female patients than male patients (39.6% compared to 22.7%). This surge in anti-anxiety medication in particular is an interesting finding, given the report also found benzodiazepine (common anxiety meds) usage over 2015-2019 to actually be on the decline (down 12.1%). The report comments on stricter prescribing guidelines surrounding these medications as being a big part of the decline in their prescription.

So, now with this surge in anxiety medications being prescribed (including benzodiazepines), what does this all mean? Some physicians are seeing the upswing over the past few months as positive, showing Americans are prioritizing their mental health and reaching out when they need help. There has also been a concurrent increase in the utilization of telehealth (including telepsychiatry) services, which further supports this notion. What will be important is that people getting these medications continue to be followed by their physicians. Benzodiazepines in particular, while highly effective, have great addictive potential and can be unsafe when used with certain medications or long-term.

At CalPsychiatry, our physicians can help assess your need for anxiety, depression, and/or insomnia medications. We also offer telepsychiatry services for your convenience and safety during this time. Call today for a medication consultation.

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