Healthy Living

Majority Of Americans Take Prescription Drugs

Many of the medicines are for obesity-related illnesses, a new study finds.

If you pop a pill every morning for high blood pressure or inject insulin to treat diabetes, you are very much not alone.

A new study finds that more Americans than ever -- nearly 60 percent -- have taken a prescription drug at least once in the previous month. Many of those pills are taken to combat obesity-related illnesses, a team of researchers say in a paper published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The research analyzed the use of a wide variety of prescriptions among those aged 20 and older, including antibiotics, birth control and heart medication. Rates of use hovered around 51 percent in 1999 and 2000, but jumped to 59 percent in 2011 and 2012.

Elizabeth Kantor, a co-author of the study and epidemiologist at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, said the significant rise doesn't necessarily represent a troubling trend. While she said it's imperative to be diligent about the prescribing of medications, the data may suggest health care has become more accessible.

"We want to be treating people who need to be treated. Our use of certain drugs might increase as certain conditions, or access to care improves," Kantor said. "But at the same time, it's also important to be cautious about it."

The authors said they hope the data will spur further research.

Many drugs used to treat obesity-related issues, including hypertension, cholesterol and diabetes, saw large upticks in prescriptions. The data also reflects a nearly twofold increase in antidepressant use.

Kantor said she was not surprised by the results. Antidepressants, the researchers note, may be more often prescribed due to "shifting attitudes regarding depression."

Certain classes of drugs may be prescribed more due to the availability of a generic option that would typically cost less than brand-name medicine. A statin drug, for example, used to treat high blood pressure, came off patent in 2006. The generic version became more prescribed shortly after that, and competitors' sales declined.

Another interesting trend may reflect an aging American population: The percentage of people taking five or more drugs in a single month nearly doubled to 15 percent.

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