If you are taking a prescription medicine and you are older than 60, it is probably a cholesterol-lowering drug. If you are 20 to 59, it is more likely to be an antidepressant.
These are just two findings from a recent report from the National Center for Health Statistics on the increasing use of prescription drugs from 1999 to 2008.
Among people older than 60, the researchers found, about 88 percent were using at least one medicine, and more than two-thirds were taking five or more.
“People may be taking too many drugs — that's a big concern in the older age groups,” said Dr. Qiuping Gu, the epidemiologist who led the research. “When you see such a big percentage taking five or more drugs, side effects and safety become very serious issues.”
Almost 45 percent of people over 60 now take cholesterol-lowering prescription medicine, more than twice the rate in 1999.
Even among children under 12, more than 22 percent were using at least one prescription drug (most commonly for asthma), and so were almost 30 percent of teenagers.
Among adolescents, the most commonly used drugs were for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and related conditions — 6 percent in 2008, up from 3 percent in 1999.
“That's a significant trend,” Gu said.
In the under-12 group, antibiotic use declined, and there was no statistically significant change in the use of other drugs.
Use also varied by sex, race, and ethnicity. Women were heavier users than men, and white people used more prescription medicine than non-Hispanic blacks or Mexican-Americans.
Having health insurance, and especially prescription drug coverage, had a predictable effect: those with insurance were almost twice as likely to use drugs as those without.
The data came from the government's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, known as NHANES, which examines a nationally representative sample
of about 5,000 children and adults around the country each year. Unlike other such surveys, this one combines material from interviews and physical examinations.
The report also cited data finding that spending on prescription drugs more than doubled over the decade, even after accounting for inflation. In constant dollars,
Americans spent more than $234 billion on prescription drugs in 2008, up from $104.6 billion in 1999.