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By September 1, 2008No Comments

Prescription drug use in the United States is on the rise, both for acute and chronic conditions, according to data from two pharmacy benefit managers. Express Scripts reports the number of people with at least one prescription increased from 67% to 74% between 2000 and 2006, while Medco Health Solutions estimates that more than half of the insured U.S. population took prescription medication in 2007 for a chronic health condition.

According to Express Scripts’ Geographic Variation in Prescription Drug Utilization study, in addition to the increase in the number of Americans using prescribed medications, the intensity of use rose, too. In 2000, the number of prescriptions per person using a prescribed medication was 10.8, and this increased to 14.3 by 2006. The drug therapy classes experiencing the most growth were antihyperlipidemics (for controlling cholesterol and triglyceride levels), antidiabetics (diabetes) and antihypertensives (blood pressure).

Medco’s study found that 51% of insured U.S. adults and children were being treated with prescribed medication for a chronic condition in 2007. Additionally, this study reports that 20% of the population uses three or more prescription drug treatments for chronic conditions. The most widely used drugs were those prescribed to battle high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

Both reports point to obesity as a key factor in explaining their findings. For example, the Express Scripts report, which examines geographic variations, found a high correlation between state level obesity rates and use of medications for diabetes and high blood pressure, and a medium correlation between obesity rates and use of medication for high cholesterol.

Other factors that could be contributing to increased prescription drug use, as suggested in the Express Scripts report, include greater compliance rates, more dual therapy, higher screening rates for certain conditions, earlier initiation of drug treatment, and growing willingness on the part of physicians to use drug therapy instead of other types of treatment. Additionally, due to various advances in medical care, many once-fatal conditions have evolved to become chronic conditions, treatable by maintenance medications. Add the growing number of drug therapies now available for conditions that previously went untreated (erectile dysfunction, sleeping disorders, a variety of mental health-related issues), along with direct-to-consumer advertising by drug makers, and this trend of increased prescription drug usage seems sure to continue.

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