Multiple factors contribute to rise in overall use and number of individuals who use more than five each day
A November 2015 article in the Tampa Bay Times tells the story of an area retiree of 60 who takes several prescription medications daily. Though the topic may seem mundane, her story is like those of an increasing number of Americans who take multiple prescription drugs daily in order to improve their quality of life.
“There’s metformin to help control [the woman’s] blood sugar. Lyrica for the pain brought on by fibromyalgia. A drug known as Singulair makes it easier for her to breathe.”
She speaks of the medications making a real difference in her life, according to the Times. “I feel good,” she said. “I wouldn’t be feeling good without them.”
A study published this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that almost 60 percent of adults in the United States take at least one prescription drug — up from 51 percent in 2000.
The Times also points to another study result: a spike in the share of adults using five or more medications. The figure jumped from 8 percent in 2000 to 15 percent in 2012.
The spike is not surprising, according to John Clark, an assistant professor of pharmacy at the University of South Florida who was not involved in the study. “We have a culture in this country where we use drugs to treat different health problems,” he told the Times.
While increases were noted among most classes of drugs, the use of prescription pills for high blood pressure jumped from 20 to 27 percent and, for high cholesterol, it rose from 7 to 17 percent.
Pain medication use, meanwhile, remained stable, and sex hormone use among women dropped.
The article explains that the team thought the overall trend was being driven by the aging population, lead researcher Elizabeth Kantor said. Their rationale: Older adults tend to take more drugs than younger adults.
“But when we accounted for the changing age structure, the increase was still there,” said Kantor, an epidemiologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
Instead, she believes multiple factors are likely at play, says the Times. The rapid spread of generics and changes to the federal Medicare program for senior citizens have made prescription drugs more affordable and accessible over the past decade, she said.
Continually rising obesity rates may also be a factor. “When we looked at the top 10 most commonly used drugs in 2011-12, most of those drugs were for conditions like hypertension, diabetes and heart failure,” she told the paper. “It did raise the idea the obesity epidemic is influencing the landscape of prescription drug use.”
“The increase in pharmaceutical consumption has driven a cost increase for health insurance companies in recent years, especially as expensive specialty drugs have emerged on the market,” says the Times article.
The biggest cost trend in health care is pharmaceuticals, according to Ken Burdick, CEO of the Tampa-based HMO WellCare.
For the Tampa area retiree, the prescription drugs have been part of a broader effort to get healthy. She recently changed her diet and lost about 50 pounds, she told the Times. “I’m happy,” she said. “The drugs have definitely helped.”