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Prescription Meds: (Nearly) Everybody’s Taking Them

The majority of Americans are on drugs

Almost 70 percent of the population in this country takes at least one prescription drug. More than 50 percent take two. Twenty percent are on a staggering five or more prescription meds. This information comes courtesy of a Mayo Clinic study, which also found that antibiotics, antidepressants and painkillers are the most commonly prescribed.
Researchers find this information is useful for the insight it provides into prescribing practices.
Why We Take What We Take
“Often when people talk about health conditions they’re talking about chronic conditions such as heart disease or diabetes,” says study author Jennifer St. Sauver, Ph.D., a member of the Mayo Clinic Population Health Program in the Mayo Clinic Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery. “However, the second most common prescription was for antidepressants—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.”
High blood pressure medications were the fourth most prescribed, with vaccines a close fifth. Drugs were prescribed to men and women across all age groups, except those used to treat high blood pressure, which were infrequent before age 30.
In general, the study found that women and older adults have more prescriptions. “As you get older you tend to get more prescriptions,” St. Sauver says. The elderly population has more prescriptions for cardiovascular drugs, and women receive the lion’s share of antidepressants: Nearly 1 in 4 women ages 50 to 64 are on an antidepressant.
A Growing Industry
Prescription drug use has increased steadily in the U.S. over the past decade. In 1999-2000, the percentage of people who took at least one prescription drug was 44 percent; in 2007-08, that percentage jumped to 48. Spending on prescription drugs accounted for 12 percent of total personal health-care expenditures in 2009. These numbers, researchers say, are expected to continue this climb.

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