Prescriptions for antidepressants, anti-anxiety, anti-insomnia drugs jumps 21% post COVID-19

Woman paying for a prescription at a pharmacy
Express Scripts found an uptick in prescriptions for behavioral health medications as a result of COVID-19. (Getty/Tom Merton)

Amid stress about health, finances and uncertainty about what to expect next, the COVID-19 pandemic is having a significant impact on Americans' mental health, a new report from Express Scripts shows. 

The pharmacy benefit manager found that prescriptions per week for antidepressants, anti-anxiety and anti-insomnia drugs increased by 21% between February 16 and March 15, peaking the week of March 15 when the virus was deemed a pandemic. 

The largest increase was in anti-anxiety medications, according to the report, which rose by 34.1% over that month and 18% in the week of March 15. Filled antidepressant prescriptions increased by 18.6% and for anti-insomnia medications by 14.8%. 

RELATED: Express Scripts’ SafeGuardRx programs saved $4.3B last year. Here’s how 

That stands in constrast to double digit drops in the use of some of these medications over the previous five years. 

“Americans have grown increasingly anxious as they’ve seen this global pandemic upend their lives within a very short time,” said Glen Stettin, M.D., senior vice president and chief innovation officer at Express Scripts. “We’re all concerned about our health, our families and our livelihoods, and are struggling with uncertainty.” 

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

The data was released as a broader report called America’s State of Mind that delves into broader trends in behavioral health medication use.  

RELATED: Express Scripts reveals drug classes that are driving spending growth 

Between 2015 and 2019,  use of anti-anxiety medications decreased by more than 12% among 21 million people in employer-sponsored health plans. Anti-insomnia medication use also dropped by 11.3%, according to the report. 

Antidepressant use increased during the five-year period, however, Express Scripts found. The number of people taking these medications increased overall by 15% between 2015 and 2019, with the largest increase recorded among adolescents.  

For people between the ages of 13 and 19, antidepressant use increased by 38%, the study found. 

“While there’s evidence that more teenagers and young adults are suffering with mental health conditions than past generations, they are also getting access to help and receiving needed treatment,” the researchers said.

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