More Americans Take Prescription Medication

Forty-four percent of all Americans take at least 1 prescription medication, and 17% take 3 or more medications. The proportion of Americans taking at least 1 medication increased 13% between 1988 to 1994 and 1999 to 2000. The proportion of Americans taking 3 or more medications increased 40%. Findings are from Health, United States 2004, a comprehensive report based on data collected by the CDC, National Center for Health Statistics, and other government and private sources. Survey respondents were asked whether they had taken medication during the previous month.

Prescription drug use increased among persons of all ages (Cover Figure), with use increasing with age. Five of 6 persons aged 65 and older take at least 1 medication, and almost half of those aged 65 years and older take 3 medications or more. Nearly half (49%) of all women were taking prescription drugs in 1999 to 2000, compared with 39% of men.

Use of antidepressants by adults nearly tripled between 1988 to 1994 and 1999 to 2000. The rate of antidepressant use by women is approximately twice that of men (Figure). Ten percent of women and 4% of men aged 18 and older currently take antidepressants.

While the number of men taking antidepressants has increased, the gender gap in antidepressant use persists. (Adapted from Health, United States 2004.)

The use of cholesterol-lowering statin medications among persons aged 45 and older more than tripled, from 12.3 physician visits per 100 population at which a statin was prescribed in 1995 to 1996 to 40.5 visits per 100 population in 2001 to 2002. Men are consistently more likely than women to be prescribed statins: statin drug visits in 2001 to 2002, for example, were 45.2 for men compared with 36.7 for women.

The use of medications to manage attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in school-aged children (5 to 17 years) nearly doubled, from 2.6 million physician visits at which a stimulant drug was prescribed in 1994 to 1996 to more than 5 million such visits in 2000 to 2002. The stimulant drug visit rate for boys was 2.5 to 3 times the rate for girls.

Notable increases were also seen in the use of NSAIDs—increasing from 20 visits per 100 population in 1995 to 1996 to 27 visits in 2001 to 2002—and in the use of diabetes-related medications.

Almost two thirds (62%) of visits to physician offices or hospital outpatient departments in 2001 to 2002 had at least 1 drug associated with the visit. In addition, nearly half of all prescription drug costs in 2002 were covered by private health insurance, up from a quarter in 1990. Life expectancy at birth increased to 74.5 years for men and 79.9 years for women in 2002. Mortality from heart disease, the leading cause of death, declined by nearly 3% in 2002. Mortality from cancer, the second leading cause of death, decreased by more than 1% in 2002.

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