Nearly 70% of U.S. Citizens Take At Least One Prescription Drug

By Paul Gaita 07/06/15

One-fifth takes up to five prescription drugs every day.

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Researchers at the Mayo Clinic and Olmsted Medical Center issued some startling facts regarding the amount and type of prescription drugs currently used by Americans. Their joint findings, funded in part by the National Institute on Aging, revealed that nearly seven in 10, or 70% of Americans take at least one prescription drug.

More than half are currently using two drugs, and 20% use at least five prescription drugs. Total spending for sales at the pharmacy level for 2014 was $374 billion, up 3.1% from 2013. That increase reflects the rise in the number of people using prescription drugs for medical conditions. Research in 1999 to 2000 showed that 44% of Americans use one prescription drug, which rose to only 48% in 2007 and 2008.

Additional research by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics reported that the five medications most widely prescribed in the U.S is: levothyroxine, a drug used to treat hypothyroidism and thyroid cancer, and currently prescribed to 120 million individuals.

Hydrocodone/acetaminophen is the most popular painkiller for moderate to severe pain, used by 119 million Americans and one of the leading causes of overdose death, along with oxycodone and other opioids. The high blood pressure medication lisinopril is used by 104 million Americans, while the high blood pressure and heart attack medication metoprolol and atorvastatin, which is used to treat high cholesterol, have been prescribed to 85 million and 81 million U.S. citizens, respectively.

The Mayo/Olmsted research also revealed a demographic breakdown of prescription drug users. Women and older adults were seen to have received the most prescriptions, with one in four women currently using an antidepressant, and cardiovascular drugs, antidepressants, and opioids most common among middle-aged and older adults of both sexes.

Study author Jennifer St. Sauver, Ph.D, noted that the high numbers for antidepressant and opioid prescriptions indicated a growing concern. “[Research] suggests that mental health is a huge issue, and is something that we should focus on,” said Sauver. “[Opioid use] is a bit concerning considering their addicting nature.”

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.