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Medication Nation: Prescription Drugs Common

Nearly Half the U.S. Takes at Least 1 Prescription Drug, Says CDC
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WebMD Health News

Dec. 2, 2004 -- Take any prescription drugs? If so, you've got lots of company. Almost half of all Americans use at least one prescription drug, says the CDC.

Credit America's aging population, longer life spans, and medical know-how for the trend. People tend to use medicines more as they face health problems later in life, and life expectancy topped 77 years in 2002 -- a record, says the CDC.

The nation's three deadliest conditions are also coming under better control. Deaths from heart disease, cancer, and stroke all dropped by 1%-3% in 2002.

Prescription drugs and medical advances have helped improve America's longevity and health. For instance, new treatments helped cut U.S. deaths from AIDS in the 1990s. Medicine has also made it possible to manage -- if not cure -- some dreaded diseases.

At last count, 44% of all Americans took at least one prescription drug, and 17% took three or more prescription drugs. The numbers are from Health, United States 2004, an annual report from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics. It includes the number of drugs people said they took in the previous month.

Prescription drug use was up for all generations. Not surprisingly, older adults used the most prescription drugs. More than 80% of people over 65 took at least one prescription drug during the previous month. Almost half took three or more drugs per month.

Depression, diabetes, and cholesterol made doctors reach for their prescription pads in record numbers. There were "substantial increases" in prescriptions for antidepressants, blood glucose/sugar regulators, and cholesterol-lowering drugs, says the CDC.

Women were more likely to take antidepressants than men. Ten percent of adult women reported using a prescription antidepressant in the past month. White adults were three times more likely to use antidepressants than black or Mexican adults.

"Americans are taking medicines that lower cholesterol and reduce the threat of heart disease, that help lift people out of debilitating depressions, and that keep diabetes in check," says Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson in a news release.

The tab for all those drugs is hefty. Prescription drugs make up the fastest growing segment of U.S. health expenditures. Overall, the country spent $1.6 trillion on health care in 2002. Prescription drugs accounted for a tenth of that amount.

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