Here’s a stat that will make you anxious: the consumption of anxiolytics in Argentina has grown by 40 percent in five years. Last year, 3.6 billion pills were sold. That’s 114 pills per second. If your friends at the boliche seemed super chill, you might now know why: 20 percent of anxiolytics were sold without prescription on the Internet or at nightclubs.
New data from the Argentine Union of Pharmacists and Biochemists (SAFYB) reveal that one in five Argentines – just over eight million people – regularly consume psychotropic drugs to treat anxiety, insomnia, nervousness and depression. “We have become a medicated society,” said psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Pedro Horvat in an interview with La Nación. “We live in a culture that seeks magic solutions. The result is that many people end up taking drugs when there are more effective ways to manage their problems, like meditation, diet and exercise.”
There’s some good news. According to the SAFYB report, doctors are more aware than they were five years ago of diseases associated with stress and psychosomatic factors. They are thus more likely to prescribe anxiolytics to supplement other treatments instead of simply prescribing them alone.
But increased access is easily abused. “Some doctors prescribe anxiolytics as a simple answer to any emotional quandary,” said Horvat. The sale of anxiolytics is a business as much as a medical practice. Last year, the anxiolytics trade amounted to US $12 trillion. Many pills, like Diazepam and Clonazepam, are addictive. “Consumption of psychiatric drugs on a sustained basis can lead to hallucinations, mania, delirium and aggression,” said Marcelo Peretta, head of SAFYB.
Anxiolytics remain a small piece of the country’s mental health puzzle. Argentina has the highest number of psychologists per capita in the world, with roughly 198 psychologists per 100,000 inhabitants. Half of them work in Buenos Aires. “Argentine society is intensely emotional because of our origin, history and what happened in the last 40 years,” said Horvat. “Over decades, increasing violence and economic difficulties take a toll on our mental health.” There’s no evidence that porteños’ need for psychoanalysis is decreasing. With respect to psychotropic drugs, however, Horvat urges Argentines to take heed of risks and consider alternatives.