Striking Uptick in Anxiety, Other Psych Meds

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APRIL 17, 2020 — The psychological, physical, and financial aspects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic are having a significant negative impact on Americans’ mental health, new research shows.

An analysis from pharmacy benefit manager Express Scripts shows that the number of weekly prescriptions for antidepressant, antianxiety, and anti-insomnia medications jumped 21% between February 15 and March 15, peaking during the week ending March 15 when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic and the United States declared a national emergency.

“Americans have grown increasingly anxious as they’ve seen this global pandemic upend their lives within a very short time, and that’s understandable,” Glen Stettin, MD, Express Scripts senior vice president and chief innovation officer, told Medscape Medical News.

“This analysis shows that many Americans are turning to medications for relief and demonstrates the serious impact COVID-19 may be having on our nation’s mental health,” said Stettin.

Anxious, Depressed, Sleep Deprived

The biggest increase was for antianxiety medications. Prescriptions rose 34.1% between mid-February and mid-March ― a striking change from a 12.1% decline in use of anxiety medications from 2015 through 2019, according to the report.

During the week ending March 15, the use of drugs to ease anxiety jumped nearly 18%. More women (39.6%) than men (22.7%) sought medication for anxiety during the study period.

In addition, prescriptions for antidepressants rose 18.6%, and prescriptions for insomnia medications rose 14.8% from mid-February to mid-March. The spike in insomnia medications contrasts with an 11.3% decline in their use from 2015 through 2019.

“Prescriptions for these medications started to level off after March 15, possibly because Americans started sheltering in place, though they remained at a higher level than at the start of the year,” Stettin told Medscape Medical News.

The COVID-19 data are based on prescription claims for antidepressant, antianxiety, and anti-insomnia medications filled between January 19, 2020, and March 15, 2020, among a sample of more than 31.5 million commercially insured individuals.

“The good news is people are seeking help and care for their mental health during this time and getting [a prescription] if needed. We felt it was important to share these data so people who may be concerned about the way they are feeling right now know that they are not alone,” Stettin said.

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