Sun | Dec 15, 2019

Anxiety overdose - Several under-pressure Jamaicans hooked on medications to reduce stress

Published:Sunday | July 2, 2017 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
Take your medication
Dr Anthony Allen

As the United States struggles to battle an opioid epidemic, with scores of persons abusing prescription medications used for pain relief, there are concerns that several Jamaicans are becoming addicted to anti-anxiety medications as they try to cope with their stressful circumstances.

The opioid epidemic is claiming as many as 91 lives daily in the US, and locally, consultant psychiatrist Dr Anthony Allen is concerned that based on patterns he has observed in recent times, some Jamaicans who are placed on anti-anxiety medications such as Valium and Xanax are finding various means to ensure that they get a steady supply of these drugs, which should be taken for a short period of time.

"You could see where with this pattern, it could be a significant problem in the country," Allen told The Sunday Gleaner.

According to Allen, who has been a psychiatrist for more than 40 years, the reluctance of some to seek counselling or therapy is fuelling the dependency on these medications.

"It happens, and any number of cases is too much. It shouldn't be happening at all," said Allen.

"There are some persons who are worried about stigma, they don't want to be seen or to be known to see a psychiatrist, so they depend on the tablets, self-medicating instead. There are those that are crisis oriented, they only want to deal with the crisis and suppress the symptom, they are not proactive enough or patient enough to go through a therapeutic process which takes time," added Allen.


Stressful living climate


Executive director of the National Council on Drug Abuse, Michael Tucker, agreed that the stressful climate under which several Jamaicans have to live and work could result in some individuals becoming addicted to anti-anxiety medications.

"Especially where you have predominantly single parent running household, you will find a situation where the stresses of taking care of children, making ends meet and performing on the job, which is often a stressful job, people may turn to anti-anxiety medication," said Tucker.

"Because some doctors, not all ... may be sympathetic, they may assist, or people get one prescription with a number of repeats on it, and they move around from pharmacist to pharmacist to get more than they should actually get, so those things happen," added Tucker.

In the meantime, president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Jamaica, Ainsley Jones, noted that while medications like Xanax and Valium are two of the more popular controlled drugs sought after at local pharmacies, there are specific guidelines as to how they are dosed by the physicians and dispensed by pharmacists.

"We know that they are very addictive and some patients would want to abuse them, but it is the duty of the pharmacist who is at the end of the chain in terms of health care practitioner ... (to) ensure that the patient get this drug," said Jones, as he noted that there is a black market for these drugs.

Overdosing on these medications can result in poor judgement, anxiety, sweating, trembling and irritability.

Health officials and policymakers in the US are currently dealing with an opioid crisis which, according to the Centres for Disease Control, killed more than 33,000 people in 2015 alone.