Study finds increase in prescription drug use, including multiple medications

WASHINGTON– Prescription drug use in the United States is up, with the biggest increase in adults over 40 years old.

Researchers crunched numbers from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey of 37,000 Americans over the age of 20.    They say prescription drug use rose from 51 percent of participants in the 1999-2000 survey to 59 percent in the 2011-2012 questionnaire.   At the same time, the number of adults who reported taking five or more medications a day roughly doubled.

The authors say use among young adults stayed relatively stable over this period, while use among Americans over the age of 40 rose 20 percent.

Most of the increase was in drugs to treat such common conditions as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and thyroid problems. The researchers say the number one prescribed drug was simvastatin, a cholesterol-lowering medication taken by almost 8 percent of American adults.

During the decade when these surveys were taken, guidelines for statins evolved to include greater numbers of patients.   At the same time, the nation’s obesity rate continued to rise, taking a greater toll on our health.

The authors of the study — reporting in the Journal of the American Medical Association — do not point to any specific factors behind this rise in prescription drugs. Instead, they indicate that a number of factors are at play.

The researchers also note increased use for almost every class of drug studied. But there was one notable exception — use of prescription pain killers stayed stable.


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