The harsh reality of anxiety meds
Millions of Americans are worried about the coronavirus and are now increasing the rate at which they use anxiety medication. The Wall Street Journal reported that prescriptions for anti-anxiety medication have risen during the pandemic. In March of 2020, prescriptions for Klonopin or Ativan rose 10.2% to 9.7 million from 8.8 million in March of 2019. Overall, health concerns, social isolation, job loss and now going back to work are adding significant stress to Americans. Not to mention the civil unrest, protests and riots that are taking place or that have taken place have also heightened people’s stress. The constant news feeds, social, medical and just general conversation is enough to stress anybody out these days. Because so much of our culture revolves around taking a pill to solve our issues, it is no wonder more people are using these drugs.
The most popular anti-anxiety medications, or benzodiazepines, in the United States are brands like Valium, Xanax, Ativan and Klonopin. According to the Health Policy Institute, more than 131 million people, or 66% of adults in the U.S., use prescription drugs. According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 5.4 million people aged 12 or older were past year misusers of prescription benzodiazepines, which is 2% of the population — from 2015 onward this has not changed much. Also, in 2018, 1.2 million people aged 12 or older misused prescription tranquilizers for the first time, and since 2015 onward, this has also not changed much. It seems that from 2020 onward, if we make it out of this unreal year, these trends could continue. In a report released by QuintilesIMS Holding Q.N, spending on prescription medicine in the United States will increase 4% to 7% through 2021.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 30% of overdoses that involve opioids also involve benzodiazepines. Millions of Americans are prescribed these two drugs simultaneously. In an article published in the Journal of Clinical Toxicology, it reported the rate of pediatric benzodiazepine exposure increased by 54% between 2000 and 2015. Half of all these exposures were documented as intentional abuse, misuse or even attempted suicide. Many experts have stated that these drugs have fueled another drug crisis within the country. In an analysis done by GoodRx, in the United States, depression and anxiety medication accounted for 7% of all filled prescriptions.
People are stressed, and that is understandable, but as restrictions ease, treatment providers, employers, families and friends should all be aware of the potential danger of anti-anxiety drugs. The signs of a benzodiazepine overdose include trouble breathing, confusion and disorientation, blurred vision, weakness, tremors, stupor and coma. Treatment providers within the country that offer detox should expect more people needing services. These drugs are not easy to stop using and cause dangerous physical dependence. Also, mixing benzodiazepines with other central nervous system depressants like alcohol, barbiturates or pain medication increases the risk of overdose.
Taking these drugs is a risk and a decision that should not be made lightly, especially if you have not explored healthier alternatives. The stress of what is happening in our country is not going away any time soon. Now is not the ideal time to become dependent, misuse or addicted to anti-anxiety medication. Be aware, know the risks, and understand the harsh reality of these drugs.
Nickolaus Hayes lives in Calgary, Alberta, and is a health care professional in the field of substance abuse and addiction recovery. He is a featured author of the health care website Addicted.org.