HealthDay News — More Americans than ever are taking prescription drugs, as well as using more of them, according to research published the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Elizabeth Kantor, PhD, MPH, who was with the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston at the time of the study, and her colleagues used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to determine trends in prescription drug use among 37,959 adults aged 20 and older between 1999-2000 and 2011-2012. Participants were asked about their prescription drug use in the previous 30 days. 

Fifty-nine percent of adults used prescription drugs in 2011-2012, up from 51% in 1999-2000. And 15% of them took five or more prescription drugs, an increase from 8% in the earlier period.

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By 2011-2012, the researchers found that 27% of adults were taking hypertension drugs, up from 20% a decade earlier. Statin use more than doubled — from 7 to 17%. The overall prescription drug leader was simvastatin, taken by nearly 8% of adults. Just 2% took it in 1999-2000. In addition, use of antidepressants nearly doubled, increasing from 7 to 13%. Among 18 types of drugs used by more than 2.5% of Americans, use increased for 11 medication types. Significant increases were seen only in people aged 40 and older, not among those 20 to 39.

After simvastatin, the top 10 drugs included lisinopril, levothyroxine, metoprolol, metformin, hydrochlorothiazide, omeprazole, amlodipine, atorvastatin, and albuterol. Use of all except atorvastatin increased over the study period.

One author disclosed financial ties to Pfizer, Bayer Healthcare, and Pozen.


Kantor E, Rehm C, Haas J, Chan A, Giovannucci E. Trends in Prescription Drug Use Among Adults in the United States From 1999-2012. JAMA. 2015;314(17):1818. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.13766.