A study by the Mayo Clinic and Olmstead Medical Center found 70 percent of Americans take at least one prescription drug. Twenty percent of patients take five or more prescription meds. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the number of people taking at least one prescription drug doubled between 2007 and 2010. According to the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, in 2014, Americans filled 4.3 billion prescriptions and spent $374 billion on medicine.
Burden of disease
The U.S. spends nearly $1,000 per person, per year on prescription drugs. According to PBS Newshour, that is 40 percent more than Canada, the next highest spender, and nearly double what France and Germany spend. Americans use more antipsychotics than any other country. Americans take more drugs for dementia, respiratory problems and rheumatoid arthritis. One reason is the U.S. has a higher burden of disease than most countries. Burden of disease is expressed in years of life lost to disease. Americans have high rates of heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s—all conditions that often require multiple prescriptions to control.
U.S.—home to big pharma and quick to market
Americans have greater access to new medications than other countries. According to the World Health Organization—WHO — the global pharmaceuticals market is worth $300 billion a year. Six of the ten largest drug companies are located in the U.S. According to WHO, these companies currently spend one-third of all sales revenue on marketing—roughly twice what they spend on research and development. The remaining four largest pharmaceutical companies are located in Europe, but unlike Europe, the U.S. does not have a significant time lag for bringing market to product. As a result, pharmaceutical companies introduce new drugs to the U.S. market first.
Higher prices but more generics
Australia and Europe regulate the prices of prescription drugs. Prices for patented brand-name drugs are 50 percent to 60 percent higher in the U.S. than in France and nearly twice as high as Australia and Britain. But America buys more generic drugs than the rest of the world. According to the Newshour report, within six months of a patent expiring on a brand-name drug, generic equivalents make up 80 percent of the market. Generic drugs now account for 28 percent of pharmaceutical spending and 84 percent of drugs dispensed in the U.S.
Marcia Angell, M.D., is the former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine. She now writes medical blogs for the Huffington Post. Angell says, “We are taking way too many drugs for dubious or exaggerated ailments. What the drug companies are doing now is promoting drugs for long-term use to essentially healthy people.” According to a story on Guardian.com, American doctors filled out seven prescriptions per person in the 1970s. In 2011, U.S. physicians, on average, filled out 12 prescriptions per person.
Overprescribing mental health meds
Psychology Today reports 57 percent of people with mental health problems are being treated solely with medication. Some psychologists believe that treating patients just with drugs sets a dangerous precedent. Graham C.L. Davey, Ph.D., writes, “Prescribing drugs at the onset of a mental health problem perpetuates a medical model of mental health that may lead many sufferers to believe their recovery is now out of their hands and in the hands of medical experts.”
In the U.S., the number of people dying from prescription drug abuse exceeds the number of people who die in automobile accidents each year. If your prescription drug use has now become abuse, call 866-450-1557. We can help.