Nearly 70% of Americans take prescription drugs


Nearly 70% of Americans take prescription drugs, with antibiotics, antidepressants and painkillers being the most widely used, according to a new study.

Researchers also found that more than half of patients take two prescription drugs, while 20% take five or more prescription medications.

One other key finding: "As you get older you tend to get more prescriptions, and women tend to get more prescriptions than men," study author Dr Jennifer St Sauver, of the Mayo Clinic Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery, said in a Mayo news release.

The findings come from an analysis of 2009 statistics from people living in Olmsted County, Minnesota, near the Mayo Clinic. St Sauver believes the findings are comparable to people living elsewhere in the United States.

According to the study, 17% of patients took antibiotics, 13% took antidepressants, 13% took opioids (painkillers that include Oxycontin and Vicodin), 11% used high blood pressure drugs and 11% got vaccines. Drugs were prescribed to both men and women in all age groups. The exception was high blood pressure drugs, which were seldom prescribed before age 30.

More prescriptions for women

Vaccines, antibiotics and anti-asthma drugs were most commonly prescribed in people younger than 19, antidepressants and opioids were most common among young and middle-aged adults, and cardiovascular drugs were most common among older adults.

Women had more prescriptions than men across several drug groups, especially antidepressants. Nearly one in four women aged 50 to 64 took antidepressants, according to the study published online June 19 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," St Sauver said. "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.

According to the Mayo Clinic, there has been a steady increase in prescription drug use in the United States over the past decade. The percentage of people who took at least one prescription drug in the past month rose from 44 percent in 1999-2000 to 48% in 2007-08. The nation's spending on prescription drugs was $250 billion in 2009 and accounted for 12% of total personal health care spending.

More information

The US Food and Drug Administration explains how to manage the risks and benefits of medicines.

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