Nearly 60% Of U.S. Adults Use Prescription Drugs

By McCarton Ackerman 11/05/15

Prescription drug use in the United States shows no signs of slowing down.

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Prescription drug use in the United States shows no signs of slowing down, with a new study confirming that nearly 60% of American adults currently take a prescription drug.

The findings, published in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed that prescription drug use among adults over age 20 had jumped from 51% in 2000 to 59% in 2012. Those taking five or more prescription drugs also nearly doubled during that same time period, from 8% to 15%.

Co-author Elizabeth Kantor, an epidemi­ologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and her colleagues collected their findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which samples a pool of 5,000 different people each year.

Her team noted that the most commonly used drug among the participants in 2011-12 was simvastatin (8%), often marketed under Zocor, which is used to lower cholesterol and lower the risk of both heart attacks and strokes. Eight of the 10 most commonly used drugs were for hypertension, heart failure, diabetes, and other elements of the “cardiometabolic syndrome.” Antidepressant use has also been on the rise over the last dozen years.

Perhaps surprisingly, non-hispanic white Americans are consuming all of these drugs at roughly double the rate of Mexican Americans. However, the researchers were not able to indicate why this was the case.

Some medications have been on the decline, though. Antibiotic use decreased from 5.7% to 4.2% during the same time period, while the use of sex hormones among women dropped from 19% to 11%.

The findings from Kantor and her team are similar to those of a study published two years ago by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That research project found that between 2007-2010, half of the U.S. population took a prescription drug over the course of one month and 10% took five or more.

The CDC noted that while prescription drugs led to better treatment of certain conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, it also contributed to a dangerous increase in overprescribing and prescription painkiller abuse.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.