Prescription Drug Use Increasing in America

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Bawa_0411115According to a recent study conducted by researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, more than half of all Americans are using some type of prescription drug. The study reveals that the number of Americans currently taking prescription pills is at 59%, up from 50% 10 years earlier.

The study also shows that approximately 15% of prescription drug users are taking up to five different pills within a month, almost doubling the 8.2% figure from a decade earlier. There was an increase in usage among 11 of the 18 drug classes. Most notable of these include antidepressants and muscle relaxants.

The study’s lead researcher Elizabeth Kantor expressed some concern about the number of pills being taken and suggests the increase in drug use could be linked to the rise in obesity rates. She draws this conclusion because many of the prescriptions are given to prevent or manage symptoms of obesity, including high blood pressure and diabetes.

“When we’re starting to see more and more adults using five or more drugs, it does raise a concern about the potential for drug interaction… This might raise the question of how much of this increase in prescription drug use might be attributable to obesity, as we know that the prevalence of obesity has increased among adults in the United States,” notes Kantor.

The results are nationally represented. Approximately 40,000 adults were included in the survey that compared prescription drug use from 1999–2000 and 2011–2012. Results were also categorized by age (20–39, 40–64, and 65 and over). The most prevalent increase of usage came from the 40–64 group, rising from 57% in 1999–2000 to 65% in 2011–2012. The 65+ range also showed a fair increase, from 84% of participants taking prescription drugs in 1999–2000 to 90% in the most recent study. Participants in the 20–39 age group only increased their usage three percent, from 32% in 1999–2000 to 35% in 2011–2012.

The study was published on November 3 in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Sources for Today’s Article:
Kodjak, A., “Americans Are Using More Prescription Drugs: Is Obesity to Blame?” NPR web site, November 3, 2015;

Kantor, E.D., et al., “Trends in Prescription Drug Use Among Adults in the United States From 1999-2012,”JAMA 2015; 314(17): 1818–1830, doi:10.1001/jama.2015.13766.

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Soriyya Bawa is a writer and editor specializing in health and wellness strategies, focusing specifically on providing natural, realistic anti-aging strategies that are proven to work for everyday men and women. Soriyya brings a wealth of both academic and practical experience to Doctors Health Press, having spent several years writing health, lifestyle, and beauty features for several national magazines and various different web sites. Her intuitive approach to health, beauty, and wellness means she is always on the lookout for... Read Full Bio »