US Prescription Drug Use May Be Widespread, Survey Suggests

Laird Harrison

June 21, 2013

Nearly 70% of the people in Olmsted County, Minnesota, are taking at least a single prescription drug, and more than half are taking 2, according to results from a new survey by Wenjun Zhong, PhD, from the Division of Epidemiology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, and colleagues.

The findings could suggest patterns in the United States as a whole, and the use of antidepressants and opioid analgesics warrants further study, coauthor Jennifer L. St. Sauver, PhD, MPH, said in a news release.

"Often when people talk about health conditions they're talking about chronic conditions such as heart disease or diabetes," Dr. St. Sauver, scientific manager of the Rochester Epidemiology Project at the Mayo Clinic, said in the release. "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."

The study was conducted at the Mayo Clinic and the nearby Olmsted Medical Center, both of which are in Rochester, Minnesota. The researchers present their results in an article published online June 21 in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

They based their findings on the 2009 medical records of 142,377 people, which they estimated to be 98.7% of the people living in Olmsted County, Minnesota.

They found that 68.1% of the population received a prescription from at least a single drug group, 51.6% received a prescription from 2 or more drug groups, and 21.2% received prescriptions from 5 or more drug groups.

The researchers found that 17% of the population was receiving penicillins and b-lactam antimicrobials, making this the largest drug group. The next largest group was antidepressants, which were being taken by 13% of the population. The third largest was opioid analgesics, at 12%, followed by antilipemic agents at 11%.

Women and girls received more prescriptions than men and boys in almost every category. Among the biggest differences by sex were antidepressants, with 16.21% of women receiving these prescriptions compared to 8.56% of men and boys. Men and boys received more antilipemic agents, beta-blockers, and angiotensin-converting-enzyme inhibitors.

Overall prescriptions increased with age, especially those for antidepressants, opioid analgesics, gastrointestinal medications, laxatives, and cardiovascular disease drugs. Vaccine/toxoids, penicillin, and beta-lactam antimicrobial prescriptions were most prevalent in children, however; they were least prevalent in young adults.

Antiasthmatics, topical anti-infective/anti-inflammatory agents, erythromycins/macrolides, topical nasal and throat agents, and antihistamines were relatively stable by age group.

The researchers were surprised to discover that opioid analgesics were prescribed in all age groups, including young adults, but said the explanation is that their findings include prescriptions for acute pain as well as chronic pain.

In general, the discoveries about the Olmsted County population were consistent with what is known about the US population as a whole, the researchers note. However, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey reported a 48% monthly use of one or more prescription drugs in 2007 to 2008.

"These findings are useful for understanding the prescribing patterns across all ages in a defined population," conclude the authors, "and provide important baseline information for future studies of drug-related adverse events, drug-to-drug interactions, polypharmacy, health-seeking behaviors, and other prescription-related aspects of health care utilization."

The study was funded by the Rochester Epidemiology Project and the Mayo Clinic Center for the Science of Healthcare Delivery. Dr. St. Sauver has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Mayo Clin Proc. Published online June 21, 2013. Abstract


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