Health Inc.

A Portrait Of Health: Prescription Drugs In America

Pills form outline of USA

Prescription drug use is up in the last 10 years, with about 48 percent of Americans now taking at least one medicine. Greg Martin/ hide caption

toggle caption Greg Martin/

If you tell me just a little bit about yourself, I can make a pretty good guess about the prescription drugs in you medicine chest.

For starters, if you live in the U.S. I'll guess you're taking at least one prescription drug. I'll be right about half the time, according to data just published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the last decade, prescription drug use in the U.S. has risen to the point that 48.3 percent of people take at least one prescription medicine. That's up almost 5 percentage points from the the 43.5 of people taking prescription drug of some kind at the end of the '90s.

Now, in fact, nearly a third of Americans take two or more prescription drugs.

Who's on what? The top choices vary by age.

Kids (aged 11 and under) are big users of asthma drugs — 9.6 percent of their prescriptions.

Adolescents (12 to 19) also take a lot of asthma drugs, but the most frequently prescribed medicines for this group are for ADHD — 6.1 percent of prescriptions.

Adults (20 to 59) are most likely taking an antidepressant — 10.8 percent of prescriptions — followed closely by painkillers at 10.1 percent.

Older Adults (60 and up) are, as you might expect, the group that's taking the most medicines. Some 44.9 percent are taking a drug to treat cholesterol. Next most popular are two types of blood pressure meds, with 26.4 percent taking a beta blocker and 19.9 percent taking a diuretic.

Nearly 9 in 10 older people take at least one prescription drug. And, 36.7 percent of them take five or more drugs.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from