Nearly 6 in 10 Americans Using Prescription Medicine
By Trent Townsend
Americans using prescription drugs have gone up to nearly 60 percent of the adult population over the past decade, according to a recently released paper by JAMA: the Journal of the American Medical Association. After collecting information from 38 thousand Americans over the age of 20, the study showed that drug use ranging from treating hypertension to curbing depression came in at about 59 percent of adults in 2011-12. This is up from 51 percent who used these drugs in 1999-2000.
One notable finding of the report was that the amount of people in our country who are prescribed to 5 or more medications almost doubled during the past decade – form 8 percent to 15 percent of respondents. This number is even higher among adults of the age 65 or older, which comes in at around 40 percent. With the numbers of elderly in our country continuing to grow, this could further increase these percentages over the coming decades.
Of individual drugs, Simvastin had a marked increase in use, with 7.9 of the surveyed adults taking it in 2012. This is up from 2 percent back in 2000. Simvastin is probably better known by its trade name Xocor, and is used alongside exercise in order to lower lipid levels.
The paper also finds that the drugs in the largest usage among our population are those used to combat high blood pressure, with over a quarter of Americans use. 27 percent, to be exact. This is a 7 percent increase from the turn of the millennium. This is also part of a larger trend, as signified by the researchers who produced this paper: the fight against the increasing obesity rates among Americans. Up to 80 percent of the most commonly prescribed and used drugs are for conditions that result from being overweight, including high cholesterol, heart disease, and diabetes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that one-third, 78.6 million, of American adults are obese. The most recent estimate on the medical costs for obesity in this country was $147 billion in 2008 U.S. dollars. Per person, someone who is obese could pay up $1500 a year in medical expenses than a person considered normal weight. While obesity is something that has to be determined on a person by person basis by a trained healthcare provider, a common measuring stick is people who have a Body Mass Index (a person's weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters) of 30 or more.
There weren’t increases across the board, however, as numerous drugs saw drops in people taking them. For instance, the use of hormone drugs among women is now at 11 percent, an 8 percent decline. Antibiotics also saw a small decline of less than 2 percent.
While small, this decrease in antibiotic usage could be an encouraging sign if it is the start of a downward trend, due to many doctors and medical agencies warning that overuse could result in resistance among diseases, and thereby decreasing the effectiveness of medicine. Overuse could result from taking antibiotics to fight off viral infections (colds, flu, and most sore throats), something for which they are ineffective.
However, decreases in the use of prescription medicine do not always mean someone is stopping drug usage completely, and can sometimes led to serious addictions. A few years back, the state of Florida undertook a campaign to shutter the large number of “pill mills” operating within its borders. Florida had been an epicenter in the country for the sale of oxycodone. By 2010, doctors in the state bought nearly 90 of that particular drug sold in the United States, and then resold it with little oversight at nearly 1,000 clinics.
By July of 2011, Florida had passed laws that prevented the sale and distribution of narcotics and addictive medicines through all but a few selected clinics.
“We had no tough laws in place; now we do,” Florida Attorney General Pat Bondi said.
While the “Pill Mill” problem was seemingly solved in Florida, the pull of these powerful drugs was not, and many felt the need to turn to other avenues to feed their addiction. As such, the Sunshine State has seen a surge of cases of people turning to heroin. Several factors for this rise include availability, as well as cost. While the price of heroin has remained relatively static over the years, prices on many of the prescription drugs being abused at the “pill mills” has increased dramatically. In some cases, the prices even doubled.
The cost of this switchover has been tragic. In 2014, Lee Memorial saw over 120 cases of heroin overdoses. Back in 2009, they only saw approximately 15 cases.
This past September, Governor Rick Scott took steps mirroring those of the Federal government in attempting to curb both heroin and prescription drug overdoses. At the 2015 session of the Florida legislature, a bill was passed that enabled doctors to prescribe naloxone to third parties such as addicts’ families. Naloxone is used to reverse some effects of opiate addiction.
This goes in hand with the Federal government’s recent efforts to expand access to naloxone, as well as provide better training for doctors in order to prevent instances of over-prescription.