COMMENTARY

Are Americans Taking Too Many Medications?

Alex Macario, MD, MBA

Disclosures

November 19, 2015

Trends in Prescription Drug Use Among Adults in the United States From 1999-2012

Kantor ED, Rehm CD, Haas JS, Chan AT, Giovannucci EL
JAMA. 2015;314:1818-1831

Study Summary

In this study, researchers retrospectively analyzed the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey database to determine if the prevalence of prescription drug use changed from 1999-2000 to 2011-2012. Household interviews with approximately 38,000 people were included. During the interviews, people were asked if they had taken prescription drugs over the prior 30 days and, if they answered yes, were asked to show the medication containers.

The main findings include:

  • The percentage of adults reporting use of any prescription drugs increased from 51% in 1999-2000 to 59% in 2011-2012.

  • The use increased as people became older. For example, for those aged 40-64 years, the use of one or more prescription medications increased from 57% in 1999-2000 to 65% in 2011-2012, whereas the use increased from 84% to 90%, respectively, in those older than 65 years.

  • Polypharmacy (use of five or more prescription drugs) increased from 10% to 15% among those 40-64 years old and from 24% to 39% for those over 65 years.

  • There was increased use of antihypertensives (from 20% to 27%); antihyperlipidemics (6.9% to 17%), primarily driven by statins; and antidepressants (from 6.8% to 13%), especially selective serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.

  • Narcotic analgesic use increased from 3.8% in 1999-2000 to 5.7% in 2011-2012.

  • Among those interviewed, 4.6% took antidiabetic agents in 1999-2000, which increased to 8.2% in 2011-2012, mainly due to greater use of biguanides, insulin, and sulfonylureas.

  • Prescription proton-pump inhibitors increased from 3.9% to 7.8% and anticonvulsants from 2.3% to 5.5%.

  • The 10 most commonly used individual drugs in 2011-2012 were simvastatin, lisinopril, levothyroxine, metoprolol, metformin, hydrochlorothiazide, omeprazole, amlodipine, atorvastatin, and albuterol.

All of the reported increases from 1999 to 2012 were not explained by changes in the age distribution of the population.

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