After the flood disaster Demand for psychotropic drugs in the Ahr valley increases significantly
Ahrweiler · Doctors and pharmacists in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler observe an increasing demand for painkillers and psychotropic drugs in the Ahr valley after the flood disaster in July 2021. The reasons are complex.
Even about a year after the flood, life on the Ahr is far from being the same. Those affected observe that the euphoria of recovery is gradually waning. What is apparently increasing, however, is the need for painkillers and psychotropic drugs. Doctors and pharmacists in Ahrweiler observe this. The reasons: Worries about the future, the bad experiences and the seemingly endless waiting for a return to a former life - or at least a perspective.
According to pharmacist Linda Reeves, owner of the Ahrtor pharmacy in Ahrweiler, the demand for sleeping pills, which belong to the group of psychotropic drugs, has "definitely" increased. "But that is also completely clear, because people are very psychologically attacked and have sleep disorders, and it is during the nights that they deal with their problems," she says. It is also clear, she says, that depression has increased in the flood area. "The flood and its consequences were and are a massive intrusion into people's lives. On top of that, things are moving very slowly for many.“
Not only do those affected have to apply for financial aid for reconstruction. The lack of tradesmen is also causing distress. According to Reeves, it is not only the terrible event that causes depression and other psychological problems, "but also the question of how things should continue for oneself, for the region and one's own environment," she says.
Long waiting lists for therapies
It is true that there are also offers to treat these problems non-medically. "But there are long waiting lists," says Reeves. So the obvious thing to do is to resort to quick symptom treatment, namely prescribing psychotropic drugs, even if she herself is not always in favour of this step. "However, it is difficult at the moment to get people out of depression and to change something about the causes. That is why it is no wonder that the consumption of psychotropic drugs is increasing," says the pharmacist.
Michaela Friedmann-Lieser, assistant physician for psychiatry and psychotherapy at the Dr. von Ehrenwall Clinic in Ahrweiler, confirms that the waiting lists for non-medical treatments, such as psychotherapy, are long. She also works at the Trauma Help Centre (THZ) in Ahrweiler and provides counselling to those affected by the floods as well as to helpers. The THZ has been in existence since 1 December 2021, and according to Friedmann-Lieser, it has also been "used very frequently" since then.
"You can still get appointments relatively quickly," she says, "but on average you now have to wait five to six weeks for an appointment. That's still a quick appointment in the mental health system, though." Not only for those affected by the flood, but for all traumatised people, THZ is, according to her, the place to go. And the requests have increased, she says. "People are contacting us more during, for example, bad weather or when storms are announced. When the war in Ukraine started, there were also a lot of enquiries," says Friedmann-Lieser.
Consequential diseases due to chronic stress
She is not allowed to prescribe medication as part of her counselling work at the THZ. But as a doctor in the psychiatric outpatient clinic, she has noticed that the need for painkillers, tranquillisers and psychotropic drugs has increased. This, she says, is due to the many complex, psychiatric and psychosomatic illnesses she has seen since the flood disaster.
Like Reeves, Friedmann-Lieser says people are suffering from chronic stress that causes secondary illnesses. "Not only do we see people suffering from depression, migraines or anxiety disorders, but also more inflammatory conditions like rheumatism," she says. "In people who have a lot of stress, cortisol levels are elevated. And when the levels are persistently high, it triggers inflammation." As a result, painkillers are resorted to, because the duration of stress in the Ahr valley is very long, according to the doctor. "Very often, however, something else is needed: namely psychotherapy," says Friedmann-Lieser.
Konstantin Röser, a general practitioner in Ahrweiler, sees it somewhat differently. "Therapy can perhaps help with coping, but if the circumstances do not change, it is not a long-term solution," he says. Even now, he experiences statements from patients like "I only need to hear the sound of water, then I fall into panic again". Since the reconstruction in the Ahr valley is hardly going on and it still looks catastrophic, especially on the upper Ahr, it is little wonder that people are increasingly falling into depression. According to him, the number of sick leaves in his practice has also increased. Röser is dissatisfied with politics and, according to him, has invented a "nice motto" for it: "They're good at armaments, but they don't do anything for the Ahr valley.
Original text: Jill Mylonas
Translation: Mareike Graepel