Prescription Drug Use on the Rise, CDC Reports

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A new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals a greater need for pharmacists to manage Americans’ growing prescription drug load.

More than 48% of Americans took at least 1 prescription drug each month in 2008—a 10% increase over the past 10 years, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“As new drugs are introduced and new uses for old drugs are found, more patients can have improved health and quality of life with the appropriate use of prescription drugs,” researchers said in the study. Medications to treat asthma, attention deficit disorder, depression, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol were among the most commonly used drugs.

Investigating the use of multiple prescription drugs, the report revealed key findings for pharmacists. The use of more than 1 prescription drug rose by 20%, and the use of more than 5 prescription drugs rose by a staggering 70%, compared with the previous decade. From 2007 to 2008, 50% of all Americans used at least 1 or more prescription drugs, and 1 of every 10 Americans used 5 or more.

Although these numbers likely reflect the prevalence of chronic disease among adults aged 60 years and older, the CDC report warned against “excessive prescribing,” noting that “polypharmacy is also an acknowledged safety risk for older Americans,” and could lead to “adverse drug events, medication compliance issues, and increased health care costs.”

Other important findings from the report include:

  • In 2007 to 2008, 1 of every 5 children and 9 in 10 adults aged 60 years and older used at least 1 prescription medication.
  • Americans without health insurance, a reliable source of health care, or prescription drug benefits were less likely to use prescription drugs.
  • The most common drugs for each age group included bronchodilators for children aged 0 to 11 years, penicillin antibiotics for children younger than 6 years, central nervous system stimulants for adolescents aged 12 to 19 years, antidepressants for adults aged 20 to 59 years, and cholesterol lowering drugs for adults aged 60 and older.
  • Prescription drug use increased with age, and women were more likely than men to use prescription drugs. Rates of use were highest among non-Hispanic whites and lowest among Mexican Americans.

As a result of the steady increase in prescription drug use, US spending for prescription drugs has more than doubled from 1999 to 2008, reaching a total of $234.1 billion.

Although the figure may be a cause for concern in light of rising health care costs, the CDC notes that “lack of access to medicines may impact health and quality of life, as prescription drugs are essential to treat acute and chronic diseases.” The growth of prescription medication use is expected to continue into the next decade as uninsured Americans gain coverage through the Affordable Care Act.

For other articles in this issue, see:

  • Pharmacy Times iPad App Unveiled
  • Pharmacists Invited to Share Their Stories
  • Pharmacists Valuable Players on Health Care Teams