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Where America Buys Drugs… Prescription, That Is

The prescription drug industry generates billions of dollars each year and plays an integral part in the health and wellness of Americans. Let’s take a look at how Americans purchase and use—and abuse—prescription drugs.

Whether you had the flu, an ear infection, or surgery, you’ve probably had good reason to take a prescribed medication in your lifetime. Taking a prescribed medication is a daily or monthly part of many Americans’ lives, with 48.7% of people having taken at least one in the last 30 days, as reported by the Center for Disease Control. No wonder the yearly revenue from prescription drugs in America reached $234.1 billion in 2008 and continues to grow. According to research from IMS Health, the most prescribed drug is one for hypothyroid, with 23 million prescriptions written each month. The fact that this drug deals with regulating slow metabolism is further evidence that the growing rise of obesity in Americans heavily affects the pharmaceutical industry. The cholesterol-regulating drug, Crestor, and heartburn management drug, Nexium, come in close second and third of most prescriptions written per month, with 22.9 million and 19.3 million respectively.

So where are Americans buying their drugs? The answer to this question varies depending on consumer age. Data compiled by Statista reports that nearly half of millennials aged 18-37 buy their prescriptions from chain drug stores, like Walgreens, CVS, and Eckerd. Baby Boomers are also utilizing chain drug stores for 24% of their prescription purchases, but also utilize pharmacies at discount stores. And by the time Americans are 69-years-old or older and their mobility is sometimes limited, 26% are buying their medications from mail order or online prescription drug retailers, who offer the convenience of having meds delivered right to their doorstep.

But while many Americans use prescription medications to treat both chronic and short-term illnesses, some people develop a very dangerous addiction to these drugs. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the most commonly abused fall into three categories: opioids, central nervous system (CNS) depressants, and stimulants. In the opioid category, you may’ve heard of soe of the drugs being abused Fentanyl (Duragesic®), Hydrocodone (Vicodin®), and Oxycodone (OxyContin®) and the growing instance of overdoses on these and other meds. In 2013 alone, there were 22,767 reported prescription drug overdose deaths in America—that’s a shocking average of 62 people per day. And opioids alone caused 16,235 of those deaths.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse suggests the reason for such high prescription drug addiction and abuse is that some of these medications have psychoactive—or ‘mind-altering’—characteristics and may put the user in a preferred alternative state of mind. When taken as prescribed by a doctor, an opioid, CNS depressant, or stimulant can be safe and even extremely beneficial to those with illnesses or injuries that call for them. But once a prescription leaves a doctor’s office, the patient is free to use—or abuse—the meds.  

Only time will tell whether these trends in buying, prescribing, and abusing continue to steadily increase or whether a change in healthcare or the market will shake things up. As more of our lives become digital and as healthcare becomes available to more Americans, doctors and patients are both likely to see the prescription drug industry take interesting and unexpected turns.

by Jill Kapinus


Where America Buys Prescription Drugs

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