Experts today warned the US risks creating an opioid-like crisis with anxiety pills if it decides to screen anyone under the age of 65 for the disease.
The US Task Force on Preventive Services, one of the most influential health care bodies in the United States, last month recommended that the roughly 200 million Americans aged 18 and over be screened – even if they have no symptoms.
This would make clinical help for anxiety more accessible and require patients to jump through fewer hurdles to get help, doctors say.
But experts have told DailyMail.com it could spur a rise in anti-anxiety drug prescriptions – which are already feared to be at the center of a burgeoning addiction crisis in the US.
The most common anxiety medications belong to the benzodiazepine class, with fast-acting medications like Xanax, Klomopin, Valium, and Ativan being part of the group.
Dr. Anna Lembke, head of Stanford University’s Addiction Medicine Dual Diagnosis Clinic, told this website she fears the new guidelines will have echoes of the opioid epidemic. .
Dr Jonathan Shedler, professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, told Fox News that following the recommendation would be “terrible”.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 107,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2021 – nearly 80% of them caused by opioids.
Some experts worry that new anxiety screening guidelines for all American adults under the age of 65, even if they don’t have symptoms, could lead to overmedicalization and even fuel a potential crisis of opioid addiction ( archive photo)
The task force released draft guidelines issuing the recommendation on September 20.
It is open for public comment until October 17, but it is rare that the draft guidelines are not confirmed in the official guidelines.
It had previously made similar recommendations for children aged eight to 17 as well.
It’s estimated that about one in five American adults — or about 40 million people — suffer from anxiety to some degree.
The group cites the growing prevalence of anxiety during the pandemic as part of the reason for the change, but say the issue was thought through even before Covid surged.
“This is the wrong solution at the wrong time”, DOCTOR!!!! Shedler said.
“You can’t just cut the world out of the Troubles and think you’re doing an adequate job of figuring out someone’s mental health needs.”
He notes that under these guidelines, a primary care physician will screen patients for anxiety using a quick seven-question survey — prior to any assessment by a psychologist.
“Primary care is not the place to get mental health care,” he continued.
“Doctors don’t have time. They don’t have the resources. They don’t have the training.
These rapid screenings will make it easy for a person to walk out of the doctor’s office with a prescription for an anxiolytic.
Dr Anna Lembke (left), head of Stanford University’s Addiction Medicine Dual Diagnosis Clinic, compared the advice to prescription painkiller recommendations blamed for triggering the US opioid crisis. Dr Jonathan Shedler (right), professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, said primary care doctors are not equipped to screen for anxiety
A simple survey is insufficient, Dr. Shedler said, because everyone’s circumstances are different and the answers to a few questions cannot tell the whole story.
“This type of screening is going to diagnose a lot of people with a disorder and a good number of them are going to find themselves on a lifelong path of one drug and one treatment after another,” said- he continued.
“When, in fact, they are reacting to realistic circumstances in the world.”
Dr. Lembke fears this could trigger a new addiction crisis in the United States.
‘Benzos’, the highly addictive anti-anxiety party drug
Benzodiazepines, often called benzos, are the most common class of anti-anxiety drugs prescribed in the United States.
They are also often taken as a party drug due to their intense, fast-acting side effects.
Medications are very effective in cutting off a person’s energy and putting them in a relaxed state.
However, benzos are highly addictive and even when used correctly a person can become dependent on them over time.
Popular drugs that fall into the category include Valium, Klonopin, and Xanax
“In the United States, when the Joint Commission required all physicians to examine all patients for pain, even when patients did not complain of pain or exhibit physical stigma of pain, the result was a increase in opioid prescribing, contributing to our current opioid epidemic,” she told DailyMail.com.
“I could see something similar happening with mandatory anxiety screening.”
It highlights drugs like Valium, Klonopin and Xanax – all of which fall under the category of benzodiazepines, or “benzos” – as particularly dangerous.
The drugs are highly addictive and their intense side effects have made them popular party drugs.
A person who uses the drugs every day to manage severe cases of anxiety could become addicted to them within weeks, studies show.
The body also develops a tolerance to drugs, which means frequent use will need more and more over time to control addiction.
As with opioids, prescriptions eventually run out or become untraceable.
In the most extreme cases, users turn to the streets where versions of the drug are circulating that could contain dangerous contaminants like fentanyl.
Fentanyl is the main driver of the drug overdose crisis in the United States, responsible for 70% of these deaths in the United States.
Some experts also worry that these new guidelines could stress and already overburden the healthcare system.
Dr. Gail Saltz, associate professor of psychiatry at NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine, told DailyMail.com that a critical shortage of psychiatrists and psychologists in the United States will leave many newly diagnosed anxiety patients with few help in managing their condition.
She also fears that the screening done by primary care doctors will keep them away from doing other routine checkups, especially in older people who need to be screened for conditions like cancer.
Doctors often only have 15 minutes to spend with each patient before they have to continue with their busy schedules, which often results in them running out of time and energy to complete all the necessary tasks.