IMS Health Inc’s forecast of a decline in US prescription sales was on target, according to data the company released last week. Sales of prescription drugs in the United States only rose 1.3% in 2008 to $291 billion. Dispensed prescription volume in the United States grew at a 0.9% pace.
The latest data reflects a trend in prescription sales growth over the last couple of years. Total drug sales were up 3.8% in 2007 and 8.3% in 2006—a slowdown from annual double-digit percentage sales gains seen in earlier decades. Factors contributing to the market’s slower growth in 2008 included cheaper generic drugs, lower new product sales, and reduced consumer demand due to the economic turndown. Recent reports indicate that more Americans are not filling their prescriptions or cutting back on the prescribed dosage due to medication costs.
Generics, however, are seeing an increase. A January Harris Poll found that between October 2006 and December 2008, the proportion of adults who would chose generic drugs in preference to brand name drugs has increased from 68% to 81%. The Generic Pharmaceutical Association reports that generic medicines are used to fill >65% of all prescriptions. In addition, there are almost 9000 generic drugs available for nearly 11,500 approved products in the United States.
“Lower-cost products [generics] will continue to be in the marketplace over the next 5 years, probably in a more substantial way,” according to Diana Conmy, an analyst with IMS Health. She noted that the big drug makers are changing their business models to deal with the trend.
Across the major therapy classes, lipid regulators were the most widely dispensed US retail prescription medications on a volume basis in 2008. They were followed by codeine and drugs containing the narcotic painkiller, antidepressants, and angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors and beta-blockers. “In terms of overall prescription sales sold through both retail and nonretail channels, antipsychotics led all therapy classes followed by lipid regulators, proton pump inhibitors, and seizure disorder medications.”
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