Prescription drug use in the U.S. has nearly doubled in the past decade, with nearly seven out of ten Americans being prescribed medications, according to a new study by the Mayo Clinic and Olmsted Medical Center. About 20% of patients has been prescribed five medications or more; with antibiotics, anti-depressants and opioid painkillers topping the list of most widely prescribed drugs.
The findings are published online in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
“Often when people talk about health conditions they’re talking about chronic conditions such as heart disease or diabetes,” said study author Jennifer St. Sauver, PhD, of the Mayo Clinic’s Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery.
“However, the second most common prescription was for anti-depressants — that suggests mental health is a huge issue and is something we should focus on. And the third most common drugs were opioids, which is a bit concerning considering their addicting nature.”
Researchers say the findings are valuable because they shed light on the prescribing practices and patterns of drug use for various age groups of men and women.
“Prescription drug abuse has become the fastest-growing drug problem in the United States,” wrote St. Sauver. “Medication-related adverse outcomes in U.S. hospitals and emergency departments increased 52% between 2004 and 2008.”
Overall, women and older adults receive the most prescriptions. Vaccines, antibiotics and anti-asthma drugs are most commonly prescribed in people younger than 19. Anti-depressants and opioids are most common among young and middle-aged adults.
Cardiovascular drugs are most common in older adults, with men having a higher prevalence of cardiovascular drug prescriptions than women, which is consistent with cardiovascular disease patterns.
But women received more prescriptions than men across several drug groups, especially anti-depressants. Nearly one in four women aged 50 to 64 are on an anti-depressant.
“As you get older you tend to get more prescriptions, and women tend to get more prescriptions than men,” said St. Sauver.
More than 380,000 prescription records of 142,000 patients enrolled in the Rochester Epidemiology Project in Olmsted County, Minnesota were studied over a one year period.
Seventeen percent of those studied were prescribed antibiotics, 13% were taking anti-depressants, and 13% were on opioids. Drugs to lower cholesterol came in fourth (11%) and vaccines were fifth (11%).
Researchers say that prescription drug use has increased steadily in the U.S. over the last decade. In 1999, the percentage of people who took at least one prescription drug was 44%. That number rose to 48% by 2008 and now stands at 70%.
In 2009, spending on prescription drugs reached $250 billion and accounted for 12% of total personal health care expenditures.
While the number of prescriptions is increasing, many Americans are apparently not taking their medications. A recent large study by one of the nation’s largest drug screening labs found that about 42% of patients had no drugs detected in their urine samples, including medications ordered by their physicians.