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
"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
"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.
In particular, the use of cholesterol-lowering drugs among
people 18 to 64 has increased more than sixfold since 1988-1994,
due in part to the increased use of statins. Also, nearly 18
percent of adults 18 to 64 took at least one cardiovascular drug
during the past month.
The CDC report noted some headway in efforts to combat the
development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Prescriptions of
antibiotics for cold symptoms during routine medical visits
declined 39 percent between 1995-1996 and 2009-2010.
But the report also found a tripling of overdose deaths due to
prescription narcotics. Painkillers taken among people 15 and older
caused 6.6 deaths for every 100,000 people in 2009-2010, compared
with 1.9 deaths per 100,000 in 1999-2000.
There has been a fourfold increase in antidepressant use among
adults, but Holmes said that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Seeking help for a mental health disorder isn't as stigmatized
as it once was, she noted. In addition, companies have introduced
more effective antidepressants, and researchers have found that
antidepressants also can be used to treat panic and anxiety
"If antidepressants enable people to function fully in their social roles, that's a good thing," Holmes said.
Interestingly, even though more people are taking prescription
medications, the annual growth in spending on drugs has declined.
The CDC reported that spending growth slowed from 14.7 percent in
2001 to 2.9 percent in 2011.
Many popular medications have gone off patent, including
cholesterol-controlling statin drugs and other medications used to
treat high blood pressure or heart disease, Burns said. Increased
use of generic forms of these drugs has helped control spending on
However, she noted that a number of targeted medications to
treat conditions such as cancer and rheumatoid arthritis are in the
development pipeline. These drugs are expensive and could increase
prescription spending in the future.
"There are projections that these specialty drugs are going to take up a large portion of the total prescription drug spending in the future," Burns said.
Overall, the new report should give researchers, health
professionals, advocates and public officials much to chew over in
the months to come, Burns said.
"It was very encouraging to see facts we see in isolation consolidated and highlighted in one place," she said. "I think this will be a very useful resource and a stimulus for continuing the appropriate use of prescription drugs."
For more on the "Health, United States, 2013" report, visit the
U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention.
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