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Some Rattled Spirits Find a Quick Fix

January 27, 1994|SHARI ROAN | TIMES HEALTH WRITER

The Northridge quake hits. And now, it seems, many Angelenos are reaching for the bottle--pills and booze. Prescriptions for tranquilizers and sleeping aids are pouring in to local pharmacies, several sources say.

"I have heard rumors," says Sue Navest, vice president of marketing for the California Pharmacists' Assn. "But that is rumor; nothing is confirmed."

But Bob Somers, president of the San Fernando chapter of the association, says he can confirm.

"Definitely," he says. "All of the pharmacies have had an increase in these prescriptions--especially the tranquilizers Xanax, Valium and Ativan, and their generic equivalents." These drugs are mild tranquilizers designed to relieve anxiety and nervous tension.

Ira Freeman, a pharmacist at Key Pharmacy in North Hollywood, also reports a slight increase in these prescriptions since the quake.

"I think it's quite common that people have difficulty sleeping" since the quake, he says. "There is a lot more anxiety. There is just a lot of stress out there.

"Everyone reacts differently to crises, but some people may feel a need for (tranquilizers) who have never taken these medications before."

But experts on drug abuse have something else to say on how people react to a crisis.

The day after the earthquake, the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information issued a terse warning that "alcohol, tobacco and other drug problems increase as a result of a natural disaster such as an earthquake, flood or hurricane."

Prescription drugs can be easily misused in the turmoil following a disaster, says Bill Beard, an information specialist with the federally funded clearinghouse.

"Prescription drugs are just that: They should be used under the strict advice of a physician. But what happens in many cases is that people act on their own to increase the dosage or they use alcohol along with the drug," he says. "Most prescriptions have strict warnings on how to use these drugs. In times of stress, however, people forget these warnings."

Beard says the agency also urges people to avoid the use of alcohol to deal with stress.

"It is offered as a relaxant. But it can cause more trouble if it helps a person to not deal with their immediate problems," he says.

Presumably, the new prescriptions are being issued by doctors and psychiatrists who have decided that short-term use of a tranquilizer can help their patients at this time. Somers guesses that perhaps half of the tranquilizer prescriptions represent patients who have never been on such medications but have a need for them now. But most prescriptions issued are for "a small quantity of the drug, for a limited time," he says.

Chris Bement, a spokesman for the Thrifty Drug & Discount Stores chain, said those stores have not seen an increase in tranquilizers and sleeping aid prescriptions, adding: "We would have had some inner discussion about it if that were so."

The reason, he says, is because tranquilizer prescriptions must be reported to the state in order to prevent drug abuse. The drugs can be addictive with long-term use.

And post-earthquake stress may go on and on and on.

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