Drug rush: Prescription use shoots up over last decade

by Anne Zieger on October 24, 2010

Today, it’s not unusual for even a reasonably healthy 35-year-old to be taking a handful of prescriptions — and for those 60 and over to gulp down 10 or 15 prescription meds per day.

While it may seem like things have always been this way, they haven’t. These stats actually represent a major increase from 10  years ago, according to new government research. Not only does this raise increasing questions about the impact drug interactions may be having on our nation’s  health, it also begs the question of whether such widespread usage is actually appropriate.

According to a new report from the National Center for Health Statististics (a part of the Centers for Disease Control) more than one-third of people older than 60 are using five prescription medications or more — and almost all (88 percent) of this population uses at least one script, the Center found.

Meanwhile, among children under12 more than, 22 percent were using at least one prescription drug, along with almost 30 percent of teenagers.

One notable growth area for prescription drug dispensing was in attention deficit disorder and related ills.  Six percent of adolescents took drugs for such conditions in 2008, up from 3 percent in 1999. That’s not just a statistical gyration, it’s “a significant trend,” according to Dr. Quiping Gu, who lead the study for the government.

Not surprisingly, those who had health insurance were twice as likely to use drugs as those who had no coverage. Also, women seem to be heavier drug users than men, and white people used more prescription meds than non-Hispanic blacks or Mexican Americans, the researchers reported.

That being noted, another Center report provides a data point which mixes things up a bit. That study, which looked at the probability of death between 0 and 80 for Hispanics, concludes that the average life expectancy for US Hispanics in 2006 was 80.6 years old, but only 77.7 percent for the entire U.S. population.

Of course, mortality is an extremely complicated topic. Still, given that Hispanics, unfortunately, generally have higher uninsurance rates than whites, it makes one wonder how effective these piles of pills really are.  I’ll leave the work of sorting that mess out to those with MDs and PhDs, but still, I’m intrigued…

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