Over Half of Americans on Long-term Prescription Medication

Christine Miller Health Guide
  •       Data from 2007 shows that 51% of insured American children and adults are taking a least one prescription drug for a chronic medical condition.  The most common drugs are for reducing blood pressure and cholesterol, which are linked to cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes.  Also, one fifth of the population used 3 or more drugs for chronic conditions in 2007.  The data was published in a report by Medco Health Solutions, Inc, a national prescription drug benefit management company that manages the prescription benefits for about one in five Americans. 


          As people suffering with Rheumatoid Arthritis or caring for those who do, I'm sure most of us are all too familiar with managing multiple medications at a time.  Even though I have always tried to exercise regularly and maintain a healthy diet, I take cholesterol and anti-acid reflux medicine daily on top of my two rheumatoid arthritis drugs.  I couldn't make enough healthy choices to escape the bad family genetics.

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         Medco examined prescription records from 2001-2007 of 2.5 million customers of all ages, just a sample of their total customers.  They found that the overall percentage of people taking drugs for a chronic condition has risen 4% over the six year time frame.  That doesn't seem like a big jump, but the data for specific demographic groups is a little more shocking.

    • Almost 48% of women 20-44 take at least one drug for a chronic condition, compared to 1/3 of men in the same age group.  Antidepressants are the most common type of drug in this age group. 
    • The number of people age 20-44 taking a chronic medication rose 20% between 2001 and 2007, the sharpest increase of any age group. 
    • 1 in 5 Americans takes an antihypertensive (for blood pressure) and 1 in 7 takes a cholesterol lowering drug.
    • Nearly 30% of children 19 and younger take a medication for a chronic condition.  Most common are asthma and allergy medications, followed by antidepressants and drugs for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 
    • Girls taking ADHD drugs rode 72% from 2001-2007.
    • Women 45-64 taking hormone replacement therapy dropped to 15% from about 30% over these six years, but the use of cholesterol lowering drugs almost doubled over the same time.  Hypertension drugs were the top prescription for this demographic.
    • 3 out of 4 seniors aged 65 and older take a medication for a chronic condition and  28% of females and 22% of males take 5 or more chronic medications. 

         The study highlights the growing public health concerns for the nation.  More and more people are taking medications at younger and younger ages to treat conditions related to obesity and poor diet.  Many people complain of lack of time to exercise or cook more healthy foods and physicians may prescribe a medication as a quick fix instead of aggressively promoting and educating people on proper nutrition and healthy lifestyle choices.

         Other factors affecting the increase in prescription drug use are abundant advertising by drug companies.  Factors contributing to the increase in antidepressant use are added stress in daily life and an increasing number of family physicians and general pediatricians who have become more comfortable with prescribing these types of drugs.  Some, however, would view the data as a sign that more people have access to medications and that science is advancing so that once fatal diseases like some cancers, AIDS, and hemophilia are now more like chronic diseases that can be managed for longer periods. 


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       While rheumatoid arthritis sufferers like us may be on the heavy use side of the equation, I see this article as a challenge to everyone to think about themselves and their families and to think about ways to live an overall healthy, less stressful life that in time could help us see a decrease in the number of chronic health conditions and prescription drug use across this country, especially for the younger generations. 


    For more information about the Medco study, see http://www.medco.com

Published On: June 11, 2008