Almost Half of All Americans Are on Drugs


This week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data on prescription-drug use through 2008. According to the data, almost half of Americans -- 48.3% -- took at least one prescription drug per month in 2008, up from 43.5% a decade ago.

"As new drugs are introduced and new uses for old drugs are found, more patients can have improved health and quality of life with the appropriate use of prescription drugs," the CDC said in its report. But the agency said there are some concerns, noting "current prescription drug use patterns need to be better understood."

Specifically, almost 40% of older Americans (over 60-years old) used five or more prescription drugs in the past month. While this could simply be due to age, the CDC said there is a concern that it may reflect excessive prescribing, which is "a continuing challenge that may contribute to adverse drug events, medication compliance issues, and increased health care costs."

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Of course, all of that pill popping has turned into a lucrative business for drug makers. Prescription drug spending more than doubled between 1999 and 2008 to $234.1 billion, according to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. In 2008, however, prescription drug spending growth decelerated from the year before as a result of the recession, fewer new drugs and safety concerns. Despite this spending slowdown, drug prices increased 2.5% in 2008.

Prescription drug use is supposed to have picked back up in 2009, with estimates that spending reached as high as $246.3 billion thanks to the increased use of antiviral drugs and price hikes in brand-name prescription drugs. That growth is expected to continue as a number of uninsured Americans gain coverage through the health care reform bill.

Some key findings of the survey released by the CDC include:

  • The use of two or more prescription drugs per month increased by 20% and the use of five or more drugs increased by 70%.

  • 1 out of every 5 children compared to 9 out of 10 older Americans (over 60 years old) reported using at least one prescription drug in the past month.

  • Among children younger than 11-years old, the most commonly used types of drugs included penicillin, asthma and allergy treatments. Among adolescents, antidepressants, attention deficit disorder, asthma and allergies medicines were most used. Among adults aged 20-59, most common medications were for cholesterol lowering, pain relief and antidepressants. Among older Americans, high blood pressure, heart disease and but cholesterol lowering drugs were commonly used.

  • Women were more likely to use prescription drugs than men.

  • The non-Hispanic white population had the highest prescription drug use and the Mexican-American population had the lowest.