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The Silent Epidemic Behind the Pandemic

Two years ago, my cofounder, Yossuf Albanawi, wrote about how Benzos have become a silent epidemic. There has been an alarming rise in the use of benzodiazepines and other controlled substances in the United States and unfortunately we may not be paying enough attention to the deadly upsurge. When talking about “opioid-related” deaths, it is inept to ignore the role that benzos such as Xanax have played. Even though there have been fewer opioid prescriptions per year, there has been a continued rise in drug-related deaths in the United States, with a peak of 70,237 deaths in 2017. Unfortunately, we may be nearing a breaking point soon.

However, making opioid drugs the boogeyman could be missing the mark. It is crucial to think about why individuals misuse substances in the first place as well as the role of opioids in their lives. According to a recent Express Scripts report, the rate of benzo usage for anxiety went down from 2015 to 2019, but overall usage of antidepressants has been on the rise. The point that stood out the most was that over the past couple of months, anti-anxiety prescription rates have sky-rocketed. There are a number of reasons that could account for the increase, which are likely connected to social distancing policies, media narratives inciting fear, and an overall uncertainty about the future. The global pandemic has drastically changed the lives of many Americans and this abrupt switch in lifestyle could be a leading factor in the recent rise in antidepressant usage.

On another note, the president of the United States has not received enough credit for appropriately mentioning the impact on mental health during some of the coronavirus briefings. These statistics have been largely brushed over by many media outlets. For example, calls to the federal emergency hotline for emotional distress have increased 1000% when compared to the same time last year. According to a Kaiser Family foundation poll, more than half of Americans have reported that stress related to the pandemic has led to negative consequences on mental health. The elevated levels of stress on Americans brought by the pandemic have been striking figures that have not been covered by the media and could have an impact on recent antidepressant usage in the United States.

I believe that we need to make sure that we pay attention to these emerging trends before it is too late. Opioids are and have been a major issue, however we need to make sure to understand the reasons behind misuse in an effort to prevent further loss of life due to drug overdose. It is not just anti-anxiety medications, the rise of ADHD medications could be linked to the rise in methamphetamine use. Instead of demonizing specific industries and specific actors, we must build upon the correct support systems that prevent aberrant behaviors and catch them before they become too dangerous.

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