U.S. Prescription Drug Use Goes Through the Roof

U.S. Prescription Drug Use Goes Through the Roof


A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association has concluded that a significantly higher number of U.S. citizens are using prescription drugs now in comparison to a decade ago.

Researchers suggest that the need for prescription drugs is on the rise because of the obesity epidemic that has appeared in the United States in the last 20 years. However, it may also be connected to medical advancements, or is proof of a bigger underlying health problem in the United States.

A large part of the most commonly prescribed drugs are used to fight metabolic syndrome, a group of medical conditions related to unhealthy nutrition and obesity.

According to researchers, the increase in use is due to a growing demand for drugs that are meant to treat conditions related to obesity. Namely, 8 of the 10 most commonly used drugs in 2011 and 2012 are used to treat diabetes, dyslipidemia, and hypertension – all connected to the cardio-metabolic syndrome. One such drug is the proton-pump inhibitor that is used to treat gastroesophageal reflux, an illness that is most commonly manifested among overweight or obese patients.


The study used data that have been collected in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted between 1999 and 2012 in which 38,000 individuals took part. The survey showed that prescription drug use has increased – 59 percent of the population of the U.S use prescription drugs (compared to 51 percent a decade ago) and the most significant change has been seen among people aged 40 to 65 years old.

The use of 5 or more prescription drugs at once has increased from 8 percent to 15.

The use of all prescription drugs is on the rise but we can single out:

1. The use of hypertension drugs has increased from 20 to 27 percent.

2. Use of hyperlipidemia drugs has increased from 7 to 17 percent.

3. Use of antidepressants has increased from 7 to 13 percent.

However, researchers point out that more research is necessary in order to explain the reason behind this increase of use. They see obesity as one of the possible explanations, but argue that there are certainly several other factors. As a growing concern they point out polipharmacy – the use of 5 or more prescription drugs at once.

When we noticed more and more adults using 5 or more drugs at once, we were concerned about the potential for drug interaction,” says an epidemiologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and lead researcher of the study, Dr. Elizabeth Cantor.

The study raises the question of how much of this increase in use of prescription drugs is tied to obesity, as we know that the number of obese and overweight people has increased in the U.S.