Rx Nation: CDC Says Half Of American Adults Take Prescription Pills


Americans pop pills more than most other nations. We knew that. But the numbers are still striking: roughly a full half of Americans, when surveyed, had taken a prescription drug in the last 30 days. (And the concerns those numbers raise are manifold, including the report this week that 1 in 5 meds are prescribed off-label.)

Our prescription drug use is up sharply over the last couple of decades, whether you're young or old. If you're over 65 and not taking any pills, you're quite an outlier, in a lonely 10 percent (see the chart at the bottom of this post.) Maybe our headline should have been "Statin Nation."

The CDC's National Center for Health Statistics has just released its report on the nation's health in 2013, including a special feature on prescription drug use. From its press release, and "What's New!" section here:

· About half of all Americans in 2007-2010 reported taking one or more prescription drugs in the past 30 days. Use increased with age; 1 in 4 children took one or more prescription drugs in the past 30 days compared to 9 in 10 adults aged 65 and over.

· Cardiovascular agents (used to treat high blood pressure, heart disease or kidney disease) and cholesterol-lowering drugs were two of the most commonly used classes of prescription drugs among adults aged 18-64 years and 65 and over in 2007-2010. Nearly 18 percent (17.7) of adults aged 18-64 took at least one cardiovascular agent in the past 30 days.

· The use of cholesterol-lowering drugs among those aged 18-64 has increased more than six-fold since 1988-1994, due in part to the introduction and acceptance of statin drugs to lower cholesterol.

· Among adults aged 65 and over, 70.2 percent took at least one cardiovascular agent and 46.7 percent took a cholesterol-lowering drug in the past 30 days in 2007-2010. The use of cholesterol-lowering drugs in this age group has increased more than seven-fold since 1988-1994.

Some good news in the fight against antibiotic resistance:

· The prescribing of antibiotics during medical visits for cold symptoms declined 39 percent between 1995-1996 and 2009-2010.

And good news on costs (sort of):

· The annual growth in spending on retail prescription drugs slowed from 14.7 percent in 2001 to 2.9 percent in 2011.

Also of note: a continued rise in antidepressant use:

· The use of antidepressants among adults aged 18 and over increased more than four-fold, from 2.4 percent to 10.8 percent between 1988-1994 and 2007-2010.

Readers, anything else strike you most in the report?

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Carey Goldberg Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.



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