Increase in Consumption of Pain and Depression Medications: Relief Sought Mainly by Older Women

Summary: The consumption of medications among Czechs has been steadily increasing, particularly in using painkillers and drugs for depression and anxiety. Older women are the most frequent seekers of relief from these medications.

However, many individuals gradually exceed the recommended dosage without much notice. One or two pills are no longer sufficient. “We are witnessing a steady increase in the number of people abusing drugs or experiencing problems that escalate into addiction,” said Petr Popov, the head of the Addiction Clinic at Prague’s VFN Hospital.

These medications often alleviate problems such as headaches, insomnia, or depression. The most commonly misused drugs are analgesics, sedatives, hypnotics, and benzodiazepines, primarily prescribed for calming and anxiety relief.

While benzodiazepines still dominate the market, other drugs are starting to gain ground. There has been a significant increase in dependence on so-called Z-hypnotics, sleep-regulating medications. Opioid analgesics, including opioids, are also being abused more frequently, according to addiction specialists.

Data from the State Institute for Drug Control reveals that approximately 2.5 million packages of opioid analgesics were dispensed on e-prescriptions in 2018. This may be slightly distorted as the e-prescription system started, and highly addictive drugs were still being prescribed on paper.

In 2019, the number rose to 3.2 million; last year, it reached nearly 4 million packages. Similar figures have been observed in the past three years. Conversely, the overall consumption of psychiatric and anxiety medications has slightly decreased since 2020.

A comprehensive report on addictions issued last year also warned of the dangerous trend, indicating that 15 percent of Czechs have problems using psychoactive drugs. Over a million people reported problematic use of sedatives and hypnotics in 2021.

Even children are not exempt from this issue. Seventeen percent of high school students admitted using sedatives or sleep aids without a doctor’s recommendation. When combined with the use of other drugs or alcohol, it creates a life-threatening mix.

However, not all cases lead to addiction

One significant risk associated with long-term and increased medication use is that they may eventually become ineffective. Chronic headaches, for example, are commonly encountered by neurologists when patients no longer respond to the medication they have been taking. “I wouldn’t say there are more cases; they are being detected and addressed more frequently. More attention is being paid to it. With the availability of biological treatments, patients are more often referred to specialized care,” stated neurologist Tomáš Nežádal from the Central Military Hospital.

Since 2018, the consumption of pain and fever medications has consistently risen, as indicated by data from the State Institute for Drug Control, which is influenced by seasonal illnesses and COVID-19.

According to Nežádal, prevention should be the starting point for addressing this issue. Doctors and pharmacists should emphasize the risk of medication misuse to patients when prescribing medications.

Misusing psychoactive drugs poses a significant challenge, as any specialist, not just psychiatrists, can prescribe them. This allows patients to easily exploit doctors’ lack of knowledge and obtain the same drug from multiple sources.

“A prescription record is a handy tool that can help when a doctor suspects that they are not the only one prescribing medication to a patient. By reviewing the record, they can easily determine this,” adds Popov. Approximately 40 people overdose on psychoactive drugs each year.