A study published in the November 3, 2015, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that nearly 3 in 5 American adults used prescription medication. According to the study, this represents the highest level in U.S. history.
In this study, researchers reviewed prescription drug use data for nearly 38,000 adults ages 20 and older. They concluded that the percentage of American adults using prescription medications rose from 51% in 1999, to 59% by 2012. Additionally, the percentage of Americans using 5 or more medications almost doubled, rising from 8% to 15% in that same time frame.The researchers considered and ruled out the aging population as a reason for the increased drug usage. Elizabeth D. Kantor, PhD., formerly of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, now at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, could not identify a clear factor for the increase, stating in a Reuters interview, “For example, we know that older adults tend to take more medications than younger adults, and so we’d expect prescription drug use to increase as the U.S. population ages. She continued, “…something beyond the aging of the U.S. population appears to be driving the increase in prescription drug use.”
The numbers of people taking prescription drugs may not be totally accurate. In a prior study published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings in July of 2013, it was estimated that 68.1 percent of the population were using prescription medications.
One possible explanation is that only the United States and New Zealand allow direct to consumer advertising of prescription drugs. In 2000, the drug companies spent $2.5 billion on direct to consumer advertising of prescription drugs. By 2014, that figure rose to $4.53 billion dollars.
Much of the increase in prescription usage is for treating conditions such as depression, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and several other conditions that can be related to lifestyle choices.
In a November 4, 2015, CBS News story on this issue, Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, noted that living a healthy lifestyle would prevent most of the problems for which these drugs are being used. He pointed out the contradiction by saying, “Consider the irony. Here in the U.S., we aggressively peddle foods that propagate illness, and drugs to treat the illness that ensues. ‘Big Food’ and ‘Big Pharma’ are the winners — we and our families, the losers.”