Prescription medications are a lifesaving and essential component for healthcare in the United States.
New methods of treating severe diseases are coming online and hold great promise especially for diseases like HIV, Hepatitis, cancer, heart disease and autoimmune disorders like Multiple Sclerosis.
However, the majority of medications are used to treat chronic conditions that often result directly from our lifestyle. Essentially, they are a superficial improvement in symptoms that does not change the underlying cause of the disease or medical condition.
For instance, the IMS Institute of Health Care Informatics issued a report that the 10 most-prescribed drugs in the U.S. in 2010 were:
- Hydrocodone (pain medicine) — 131.2 million prescriptions
- Simvastatin (a statin, cholesterol-lowering drug) — 94.1 million prescriptions
- Lisinopril (a blood pressure drug) — 87.4 million prescriptions
- Levothyroxine sodium (a synthetic thyroid hormone) — 70.5 million prescriptions
- Amlodipine besylate (a heart disease/blood pressure drug) — 57.2 million prescriptions
- Omeprazole (an antacid drug) — 53.4 million prescriptions (does not include over-the-counter sales)
- Azithromycin (an antibiotic) — 52.6 million prescriptions
- Amoxicillin (an antibiotic) — 52.3 million prescriptions
- Metformin (a diabetes drug) — 48.3 million prescriptions
- Hydrochlorothiazide (blood pressure) — 47.8 million prescriptions.
Based on a superficial review, the majority of drugs used in the US are for the following medical conditions:
- GERD (i.e. chronic heartburn and reflux)
- Upper Respiratory Tract Infections
With the exception of hypothyroidism and some forms of URI’s, all of these conditions are often treatable by lifestyle changes and non-pharmacologic techniques.
Interestingly, this report also identified changes in use of prescription drugs, especially by seniors who appear to be decreasing their medication use due to financial, health, or other reason. For instance,
Per capita retail prescription usage – which averaged 11.33 prescriptions per person, compared to 11.46 in 2010 – declined in 41 states and fell by more than 3% in 10 states.Patients 65 and over reduced their use of retail prescriptions by 3.1%, most notably in the antihypertensive class.
Patients aged 19-25 used 4,165 prescriptions per 1,000 population, up 2.0% over 2010, and were the only age group to increase usage in 2011. Seniors aged 65+ used on average 28,767 prescriptions per 1,000 population, down 3.1%.
From a financial perspective, many patients pay only a portion of the real costs of their medications. For instance, the IMS reports that the average copay for 75% of all prescriptions was $10 or less, but as much as $40 on average for branded drugs covered by commercial insurance plans. Also, while patients with insurance paid $49 billion out-of-pocket for retail medicines, down from $50.8 billion in 2010, the total spending on medications reached $320 billion in 2011, up 3.7%. Using oversimplified math, if patients payed $50 billion for $320 billion worth of medications, than about $270 billion was payed by insurers, about 84% of the total cost.
Beyond the ideal of controlling chronic disease by living healthier and thus having a better quality of life, patients should be aware that the cost of their medicines is likely to go up as insurance companies and government policy-makers determine that one way to reduce cost of Medicare, Medicaid and Tricare will be to cover a smaller percentage of prescription costs.
At Medicine Wheel Dental and Wellness Center we recognize the essential role medications play in healthcare and the incredible advances medications bring to treating such diseases as HIV and Hepatitis. At the same time, we support the notion of reducing medications by changing diet, exercise levels, improving healthy relationships and practicing healthy ways of managing stress.
For more information, a copy of the IMS Institute of Health Care Informatics publications The Use of Medicines in the United States: Review of 2011 can be found online at the IMS website by clicking here.More