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Prescription Drug Use Continues to Climb in U.S.

CDC report says most common medications are for heart disease and high cholesterol

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Dennis Thompson

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, May 14, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Prescription drugs are playing an increasingly larger role in U.S. life, with nearly half of all Americans taking one or more medications.

Among adults, the most common prescription drugs are for cardiovascular disease and high cholesterol.

Those are two of several key findings in the federal government's annual comprehensive report on the nation's health that was released Wednesday.

The relationship between Americans and their prescriptions is complex, according to the report produced by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On the one hand, more people than ever are receiving effective treatment for chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels and depression.

But doctors and pharmacists also find themselves struggling with unintended consequences of drug use, such as prescription narcotics abuse and the advent of antibiotic-resistant germs.

"Isn't that the case with all forms of medical technology?" said Julia Holmes, chief of the analytic studies branch at the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics. "It results in great benefit to people who are ill and disabled, but there's always the potential for inappropriate use."

The report -- titled "Health, United States, 2013" -- found the percentage of Americans taking prescription drugs has increased dramatically. During the most recent period, from 2007 to 2010, about 48 percent of people said they were taking a prescription medication, compared with 39 percent in 1988-1994.

Prescription drug use increased with age. About one in four children took one or more prescription drugs in the past month, compared to nine in 10 adults 65 and older, according to the study.

"This is really not earth-shattering news. There's an increasing number of people with chronic illnesses, and the primary management tool available for dealing with chronic illness is medication," said William Lang, vice president of policy and advocacy for the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy.

One in 10 Americans said he or she had taken five or more prescription drugs in the previous month. That raises concerns about potential drug interactions, said Anne Burns, senior vice president for professional affairs at the American Pharmacists Association.

"We know that the number of adverse drug events a patient is likely to experience increases as the number of medications they are taking increases," Burns said. "You've got everything from potential interactions between medications to timing issues taking a variety of medications throughout the day."

People who took five or more drugs in the past month tended to be older. Only 10.8 percent of people taking that many drugs were between 18 and 44, while 41.7 percent were between 45 and 64 and 47.5 percent were 65 and older.

Drugs to manage cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease and kidney disease are the most widely used medications among adults, the CDC report found.

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