Anxious New Yorkers popping more pills
Published: December 12, 2008
Prescriptions filled for anti-anxiety drugs, anti-depressants and sleep aids have surged in the city as New Yorkers struggle to cope with uncertainties brought on by the financial crisis.
The spike was particularly evident in September, when an economic tsunami bankrupted Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., forced Washington to bail out insurer American Insurance Group Inc., prompted Bank of America Corp. to rescue Merrill Lynch & Co., and led Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley to reorganize as bank holding companies.
“If we looked to diagnose the city, I would say it has an anxiety disorder,” said Mel Schwartz, a psychotherapist with practices in the city and in Westport, Conn.
In September and October, prescriptions filled for sleep aids rose more than 7% to 366,870 compared to the same two-month period last year, according to data provided to Crain’s by Wolters Kluwer Health, a global provider of medical information. Prescriptions for anti-anxiety drugs rose 5% to 317,268, and anti-depressants were also up 5% to 926,654 in the two months in the city.
Taken alone, the September rise was sharper. As the financial world collapsed that month, New Yorkers filled 11% more sleep aid prescriptions and 9% more prescriptions for anti-anxiety and anti-depressant drugs than they had in the same period in 2007.
The increases come at a time when spending on all classes of prescription drugs has fallen across the country, as patients deal with tighter budgets. In the city, prescriptions for anti-anxiety drugs, anti-depressants and sleep aids had all dropped in August on a year-over-year basis before shooting up in September, according to the Wolters Kluwer Health data.
There’s no way to say with certainty that the increases are directly tied to the financial crisis. But anecdotal evidence from psychiatrists, psychologists and sleep doctors suggests that patient volume is up and that rarely does a session go by without discussion of anxiety over the faltering economy.
“It’s unusual for somebody to come in at this point and for the economic environment not to be on the list of things affecting them,” said Dr. Neil Kavey, director of the Sleep Disorder Center at New York Presbyterian Hospital Columbia University Medical Center. “It’s on everybody’s mind.”
Experts say it’s too soon to tell whether the trend will continue, but with news of layoffs and consumer spending worsening by the day, the psyche of the city remains fragile.
“There’s a sense of foreboding that what’s been going on in recent months is just the beginning,” said Dr. Charles Goodstein, clinical professor of psychiatry at New York University Langone Medical Center.