DRUG SALES: Filled Prescriptions to Jump 8% in 1999
The number of prescriptions sold in retail pharmacies is expected to jump 8% this year, to a total of 2.95 billion, according to a projection released Aug. 29 by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. In dollar terms, the group "estimates U.S. consumers will spend $121.6 billion on prescription drugs compared with $103.5 billion last year." The trend is likely to continue: The group estimates that the number of prescriptions filled will rise to four billion by 2005. (Harris, Wall Street Journal, 8/30). Fueling the rise are an aging population, increased direct-to-consumer advertising, and "an expanding array of medicines that target `lifestyle' ailments such as insomnia," including American Home Products' Sonata sleeping pill and Hoffman La Roche's diet drug Xenical. COX-2 inhibitors, the so-called "super-aspirins," and antidepressants have also sold well (Hendren, AP/Nando Times, 8/30).
The study adds to recent "concerns that some consumers ... may be unable to afford medicines that they need." Said Sidney Wolfe, director of the Health Research Group at Public Citizen, "this is good news for pharmacies ... but it's very bad news for consumers." The National Association of Chain Drug Stores argues that prescription drugs can actually lower health care costs by replacing more costly treatment methods such as surgery" (Wall Street Journal, 8/30). But a recent Hay Benefits Report finds that "a 15% rise in the cost of prescription drugs has contributed to a 5.2% increase in overall health-care premiums for 1998-1999," far higher than the 3.5% increase in 1997-1998 (Journal of Commerce, 8/31).