US Life Expectancy Up, Prescription Drug Use Widespread: CDC

Megan Brooks

May 14, 2014

Almost half of all Americans reported taking at least 1 prescription drug in the past 30 days during 2007-2010, and 1 in 10 took 5 or more, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) annual report on the nation's health, which includes a special section on prescription drugs this year.

At the same time, life expectancy from birth is going up for Americans overall, both in men and women, and some lethal diseases continue to become less so.

"Health, United States, 2013" released today is the 37th annual report on the health of the nation, prepared for the Secretary of the US Department of Health & Human Services by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

It includes 135 tables on key health measures through 2012 based on data from state and federal health agencies and the private sector. The tables cover a range of topics, including birth rates and reproductive health, life expectancy and leading causes of death, health risk behaviors, healthcare utilization, and insurance coverage and health expenditures.

Key Findings on Prescription Drug Use

  • Prescription drug use increased with age, with 1 in 4 children taking 1 or more prescription drugs in the past 30 days, and 9 in 10 adults aged 65 years or over taking 1 or more prescription drugs in the same time period.

  • Cardiovascular drugs (used to treat hypertension, heart disease or kidney disease) and cholesterol-lowering drugs are 2 of the most commonly used classes of prescription drugs among adults 18 and older. During 2007-2010, nearly 18% of adults aged 18 to 64 years reported taking at least 1 cardiovascular agent in the past 30 days.

  • Since 1988-1994, there was a > 6-fold increase in use of cholesterol-lowering drugs among those aged 18 to 64 years, due in part to the introduction of statins.

  • Among adults aged 65 or over, more than 70% took at least 1 cardiovascular agent and nearly 47% 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 7-fold since 1988-1994.

  • Other commonly used prescription drugs among adults aged 18 to 64 years were analgesics to relieve pain and antidepressants, and among the older set — analgesics, blood thinners, and diabetes medications.

  • Between 1988-1994 and 2007-2010, there was a more than 4-fold increase in the use of antidepressants among adults aged 18 or over from 2.4% to 10.8%.

  • Between 1995-1996 and 2009-2010, there was a 39% decline in prescribing of antibiotics during medical visits for cold symptoms.

  • Over the last decade, the US saw a more than 3-fold increase in drug poisoning deaths involving opioid analgesics among those aged 15 or over, from 1.9 deaths per 100,000 population in 1999-2000 to 6.6 in 2009-2010.

  • In 2012, adults aged 18 to 64 years who were uninsured for all or part of the past year were more than 4 times as likely to report not getting needed prescription drugs due to cost as adults who were insured for the whole year (22.4% vs 5.0%).

Heart Disease, Cancer Deaths Down

Americans are living longer than ever. According to the report, in 2010, life expectancy at birth for the total population was 78.7 years — 76.2 years for men and 81.0 years for women. Between 2000 and 2010, life expectancy at birth increased 2.1 years for men and 1.7 years for women. The gap in life expectancy between men and women narrowed from 5.2 years in 2000 to 4.8 years in 2010.

The report also notes a 30% decline between 2000 and 2010 in the age-adjusted heart disease death rate, from 257.6 to 179.1 deaths per 100,000 population. But in 2010, heart disease was still the most lethal disease in the US, with 24% of all deaths, the report says.

The age-adjusted cancer death rate decreased 13% between 2000 and 2010, from 199.6 to 172.8 deaths per 100,000 population. Still, in 2010, 23% of all deaths in the US were from cancer, close behind heart disease. In 2012, 18.1% of adults aged 18 and over were current cigarette smokers, down from 23.2% in 2000.

Between 2000 and 2010, deaths from chronic lower respiratory disease held steady (although still third behind cancer), deaths from stroke, influenza/pneumonia, and diabetes declined, and deaths from Alzheimer's disease and suicide rose.

As for obesity, in 2011-2012, 20.5% of adolescents aged 12 to 19 years were obese, on par with the prevalence in 2003-2004. Among adults, rates of obesity rose between 1988-1994 and 2009-2012. In 2012, only 20.3% of adults aged over 18 years met federal physical activity guidelines for both aerobic activity and muscle strengthening.

The report also notes that the teenage birth rate hit a record low: between 2002 and 2012, the birth rate among teenagers aged 15 to 19 years fell 31%, from 42.6 to 29.4 live births per 1000 girls.

The full report is available at


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