Scared by Dangerous Traffic? Take a Xanax

Why should these women be able to cross the street safely when we can prescribe them drugs instead? Photo: Ilya Boyandin/Flickr

Once in a while, a story comes along that perfectly encapsulates how dangerous traffic forces people to re-orient their lives. This example, relayed to us by a reader, comes from a recent lecture at the psychiatry department of a major Manhattan hospital about anxiety disorders in the elderly.

The lecturer brought up the case of an 80-year-old woman who uses a walker. The woman told her doctor that she was afraid to cross First Avenue to make her appointments because of the traffic. She wasn’t afraid of leaving her apartment or walking across smaller streets; it was First Avenue that scared her.

So the doctor prescribed Xanax to help her deal with her anxiety.

Xanax was not endorsed by this group of doctors due to its side effects, but our reader was taken aback when no one — neither the presenters nor the audience — raised concerns about applying the diagnosis of an anxiety disorder to an elderly person simply because she is concerned about crossing a dangerous street.

“Nobody said, ‘This is an inappropriate response to a dangerous situation,’” our tipster recalled. “Have we so given up on managing our streets in a rational way that we’re now just medicating people?”