From Our 2010 Archives

Prescription Drug Use on the Rise in U.S.

Study Shows About 48% of Americans Take at Least 1 Prescription Drug

By Bill Hendrick
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Laura J. Martin, MD

Sept. 2, 2010 -- Prescription drug use in the U.S. has been rising steadily in the past decade and the trend shows no signs of slowing, the CDC says in a new report.

The study, published in the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics Data Brief No. 42, says the percentage of Americans who took at least one prescription drug in the rose from 43.5% in 1999-2000 to 48.3% in the 2007-2008 period.

The use of two or more drugs increased from 25.4% to 31.2% over the same decade, and the use of five or more prescription medications jumped from 6.3% to 10.7%.

The report also says that in the 2007-2008 period:

  • One of every five children and nine out of 10 older Americans reported using at least one prescription drug in the month prior to being surveyed.
  • 22.4% of kids up to age 11 used at least one prescription drug.
  • 29.9% of young people 12-19 used at least one prescription drug.
  • 48.3% of people between 20 and 59 used at least one prescription medication.
  • 88.4% of Americans age 60 and over used at least one prescription drug, more than 76% used two or more prescription drugs in the past month, and 37% used five or more.

People without health insurance or a regular place to go for medical problems had less prescription drug use compared to those with such benefits.

Age and Gender Are Key

The report notes that prescription drug use increased with age, that women were more likely to use such medications than men, 53.3% to 43.2%, and the non-Hispanic white population had the highest prescription drug use at 54.3%, compared to 42% of black non-Hispanics and 33.9% of Mexican-Americans.

The CDC also says that:

  • People with a regular place for health care were 2.7 times as likely to have used prescription drugs in the past month compared to those without the benefit.
  • People with health insurance were about twice as likely to have used at least one prescription medication in the past month as those without health insurance.
  • People with prescription drug benefits in their health insurance plans were 22% more likely to use prescription medications than those who did not have that benefit.

Most Common Prescribed Drugs

According to the 2007-2008 data, the most commonly used drugs were:

  • Bronchodilators for children up to age 11.
  • Central nervous system stimulants for youths 12-19.
  • Antidepressants for people 20-59.
  • Cholesterol lowering drugs for adults 60 and older.
  • Among kids under age 6, penicillin antibiotics were the most frequently use prescription drugs.

The report says diuretics and beta-blockers were commonly used in adults and older Americans, with such medications used most often to treat heart problems and high blood pressure.

SOURCES: National Center for Health Statistics: "NCHS Data Brief No. 42, September 2010."

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