The increased use of benzodiazepines such as Xanax and Valium is striking, because the drugs had fallen out of favor in recent years in large part due to fears that they raise the risk of respiratory depression and overdose when used with opioids.
Prescriptions for anti-anxiety medication rose more for women (39.6%) than men (22.7%) between February 16 and March 15, according to Express Scripts.
Some patients with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and other autoimmune diseases say their stress levels are up because they worry about losing access hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil), a drug repeatedly touted by President Trump as a possible treatment for COVID-19.
“I am currently on Plaquenil for lupus and having Trump declare it is the cure for COVID-19 has limited my access to my medication. I am worried there won’t be enough,” a patient said.
“No chronic pain patient should have to sit and have the anxiety from concerns on being able to have access to medication needed to treat their illness,” a rheumatoid arthritis sufferer said. “I am in a horrible RA flare at this moment. I have no doubt that the stress of being concerned about getting my needed medication has helped to bring this flare on. I am really concerned about being able to get my much-needed hydroxychloroquine. There is no reasonable explanation for drug shortages in this country other than ignorance.”
“I have been on hydroxychloroquine for five years for my autoimmune disease and had never had an issue getting the medication until the virus. In March, I had to check 3 different pharmacies before I found one that had any in stock,” another patient said. “My usual pharmacy said that not a single one of their local chains had it in stock and that they were back-ordered. The pharmacy that did have it, was only able to do a partial refill.”
When she told her doctor what happened, he agreed to write a 3-month prescription for hydroxychloroquine to make sure she’d have an adequate supply. Her insurance company, however, refused to pay for more than a month’s supply.
“Not only do I worry about running out of medication, but each time I have to go to the pharmacy for various medications, I am exposing myself to others which could cause me to get the virus. As someone who has a compromised immune system, I want to leave the house as little as possible to avoid exposure,” the patient said.
On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration warned against using hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19 outside a hospital or clinical study because of “serious and potentially life-threatening heart rhythm problems.” Patients with heart and kidney disease are especially at risk.
The FDA said patients taking the drugs for approved reasons, including malaria and autoimmune conditions like lupus, should continue taking them as prescribed.