Four in Ten U.S. Residents Take at Least One Prescription Drug, Study Finds
More than 40% of U.S. residents take at least one prescription drug, and 17% take at least three, according to a report issued Thursday by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, the New York Times reports (Pear, New York Times, 12/3). The annual report, titled "Health, United States 2004," compiles the newest data collected by CDC, NCHS and dozens of other federal health agencies, academic and professional health associations and international health organizations (Schmid, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 12/2).
The report said that spending on health care in the United States increased 9.3% in 2002 -- the latest year for which data were available -- to $1.6 trillion, and prescription drugs accounted for about 10% of the total cost (New York Times, 12/3). Prescription drug costs rose 15% in 2002 over the previous year (Vedantam, Washington Post, 12/3). The report attributed the growing use of prescription drugs in the past 10 years to the development and marketing of new products, increased insurance coverage for medications and clinical guidelines that recommend greater use of drugs to treat high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and other conditions. In 1999-2000, 49% of women and 39% of men were taking prescription drugs, according to the report. The use of antidepressants among adults nearly tripled from 1988 to 2000. Among women over age 18 in 1999-2000, 10% reported that they took antidepressants in the previous month, compared with 4% of men, the report said.
Use of cholesterol-lowering statins also increased more than threefold among U.S. residents ages 45 and over between 1995 and 2002, according to the report. Men ages 65 and over were 25% more likely than women to take statins. Amy Bernstein, NCHS' chief of analytic studies, said, "Women 65 and older are no less likely than men of the same age to have high cholesterol, but doctors are less likely to report prescribing statins for their female patients" (New York Times, 12/3).
Use of stimulants among children also increased, often to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. In 2002, about 6% of all boys and girls were taking antidepressants, triple the rate in the period of 1994-1996, according to the report. The report also found that among boys, 14% were taking stimulant drugs in 2002, double the rate in 1994-1996 (Washington Post, 12/3).
Heart surgeries among elderly patients, which are performed more than twice as often among men as among women, increased at the rate of 70% over a 10-year period, according to the report. Mortality from heart disease declined by about 3% in 2002 compared with the previous year, and mortality from cancer decreased by more than 1% over the same period, the report found. Life expectancy at birth increased to a record 77.3 years in 2002, the report found. The infant mortality rate in 2002 was 7 deaths per 1,000 live births, up from 6.8 in 2001 (New York Times, 12/3).
HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said, "Americans are taking medicines that lower cholesterol and reduce the threat of heart disease, that help lift people out of debilitating depressions, and that keep diabetes in check" (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 12/2).
Julie Zito, a pharmaco-epidemiologist at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, said that studies need to examine the effect of the increased rates of prescription drug use, adding, "As the numbers keep growing year after year after year, and larger proportions of the population appear to be suffering from conditions or getting treatments they may or may not be benefiting from, that would be an argument to follow large cohorts of patients in community studies to assess effectiveness and safety."
Jeff Trewhitt, spokesperson for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said, "We have more medicines and better medicines for more diseases, and patients are being more effectively treated," adding that U.S. residents are "living longer largely because of new treatments, and that is good news" (Washington Post, 12/3).