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Report: More people using anti-anxiety medications during COVID-19 pandemic

Express Scripts also reported an increase in prescriptions for antidepressants and anti-insomnia medications.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — If the COVID-19 pandemic and the questions surrounding it have you feeling anxious, you aren’t alone. Express Scripts reported that prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications jumped 34% between mid-February and mid-March when the pandemic became a reality for many of us.

Fear of the unknown and constantly seeing negativity on TV or social media can contribute to heightened anxiety and worry. Plus, our brains function around attachment to others. When we are isolated from people, more anxiety kicks in.

“This is dread, there is intense anxiety and fear that people are living with and they had been more isolated, which is generally not a good idea when you have anxiety, fear, stress…to isolate, that tends to make it worse,” said Dr. Chris Stewart, an associate professor of psychiatry for UofL Health.  Dr. Stewart said while he hasn’t been prescribing more medication than usual, he believes that primary care providers have been.

According to Express Scripts, there had been a decline in the usage of anti-anxiety, antidepressant and anti-insomnia drugs over the last five years – until now. More than 78% of all anti-depressants, anxiety or insomnia prescriptions filled the week of March 15 were new.

The number of new prescriptions filled between February 16 and March 15 for all three categories increased by 25%. Prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications spiked nearly 18% during the week when the World Health Organization officially declared that COVID-19 was a pandemic.

“This analysis, showing that many Americans are turning to medications for relief, demonstrates the serious impact COVID-19 may be having on our nation’s health,” Express Scripts said in its “America’s State of Mind Report.”

Dr. Stewart said one thing that has helped his patients is telehealth. Even though they aren’t allowed to come to his office, he is still able to provide therapy through technology. Dr. Stewart also said that some patients actually prefer telehealth appointments because it relieves some of the anxiety of an in-person visit.

MORE: Patients now using telehealth for checkups

The CDC shared the following suggestions on how to alleviate stress during this pandemic:

  • Take breaks from the news, including social media.
  • Take care of your body:
    • Take deep breaths, stretch or meditate.
    • Try to eat healthy meals.
    • Exercise regularly.
    • Get plenty of sleep.
    • Avoid alcohol and harmful drugs.
  • Make time to unwind and focus on activities you enjoy.
  • Connect with others. Talk to your friends and family about how you’re feeling.

If your mental health gets in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row, the CDC recommends calling your healthcare provider. You can find more resources here.

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