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10 Most Popular Prescription Drugs In America 2011

National Money
10 Most Popular Prescription Drugs In America 2011

The contents of America’s medicine cabinets — as captured by IMS Health’s new report on U.S. prescription drug use — offer an interesting snapshot of our national health. A look at the top 10 most popularly prescribed drugs, for instance, reflects an aching, aging, overweight citizenry.

The report also finds that for the first time, all top 10 drugs are generics, a shift that resulted in a significantly smaller increase in drug spending in 2010 (2.3%), compared with 2009 (5.1%). Likewise, when measured by total volume, use of oral and nasal drugs increased just 0.5% in 2010 — an historic low, which actually represents a decline of 0.3% on a per capita basis.

1. Hydrocodone with acetaminophen (Vicodin)

Type of drug: opioid
Used to treat: pain
Number of prescriptions in 2010: 131.2 million
Number of prescriptions in 2009: 128.2 million

Vicodin is prescribed to treat chronic pain, which affects 20% to 30% of adults and is twice as common in women as in men. The pill is also commonly prescribed to treat pain following dental procedures. Though drug misuse may account for part of the reason that hydrocodone is so popular, fewer than 3% of people prescribed opioids for chronic pain actually develop new addictions.


2. Simvastatin (Zocor)

Type of drug: statin
Used to treat: high cholesterol
Number of prescriptions in 2010: 94.1 million
Number of prescriptions in 2009: 83.8 million

Nearly 36 million Americans have high cholesterol levels, high enough to more than double their risk of heart disease and stroke — and to keep rates of prescriptions for cholesterol-lowering statins sky high.


3. Lisinopril (Prinivil)

Type of drug: ACE inhibitor
Used to treat: high blood pressure
Number of prescriptions in 2010: 87.4 million
Number of prescriptions in 2009: 82.8 million

Out-of-control stress contributes to high blood pressure, which helps explain why the condition may be more common in the poor and in people whose jobs have high levels of responsibility but little control over outcomes.


4. Levothyroxine sodium (Synthroid)

Type of drug: thyroid hormone
Used to treat: low-functioning thyroid gland
Number of prescriptions in 2010: 70.5 million
Number of prescriptions in 2009: 66 million

A common cause of low thyroid hormones, primary hypothyroidism affects 9% of women and 1% of men. Symptoms include slow speech, lack of energy, weight gain, hair loss, increased sensitivity to cold, and dry, thick skin. The risk of hypothyroidism increases with age, which accounts in part for the increasing number of prescriptions written.


5. Amlodipine besylate (Norvasc)

Type of drug: calcium channel blocker
Used to treat: high blood pressure
Number of prescriptions in 2010: 57.2 million
Number of prescriptions in 2009: 51.3 million

The risk of developing high blood pressure increases with age, affecting about two-thirds of people over 60 (note: the oldest of the country’s 77 million Baby Boomers are turning 65 this year) — one reason that blood-pressure medications make up three of the top 10 most prescribed drugs.


6. Omeprazole (Prilosec)

Type of drug: proton pump inhibitor
Used to treat: acid reflux
Number of prescriptions in 2010: 53.4 million
Number of prescriptions in 2009: 45.4 million

About 20% of Americans suffer from stomach pain and burning related to acid reflux at least once a week, resulting in the popularity of Prilosec. Risk factors for acid reflux include obesity and cigarette smoking.


7. Azithromycin (Zithromax)

Type of drug: antibiotic
Used to treat: bacterial infections
Number of prescriptions in 2010: 52.6 million
Number of prescriptions in 2009: 53.8 million

Like amoxicillin, azithromycin is used to treat common bacterial infections, including lung infections and some sexually transmitted infections.


8. Amoxicillin (Amoxil)

Type of drug: antibiotic
Used to treat: bacterial infections
Number of prescriptions in 2010: 52.3 million
Number of prescriptions in 2009: 52.4 million

Antibiotics can be used to treat infections of the nose, throat, skin and urinary tract — but they cannot cure colds or flu, which are caused by viruses. Nonetheless, millions of prescriptions are written to try to treat these illnesses — improper use that is contributing to the increasing problem of antibiotic resistance.


9. Metformin HCL (Glucophage)

Type of drug: anti-diabetic
Used to treat: diabetes
Number of prescriptions in 2010: 48.3 million
Number of prescriptions in 2009: 44.3 million

Type 2 diabetes, the kind linked with obesity, affects 25.8 million Americans, or about 8% of the total population, and an estimated 7 million people are undiagnosed. What’s more, 79 million people are estimated to have a condition called pre-diabetes, in which patients have impaired glucose tolerance and are at high risk for developing diabetes. In 2010, 1.9 million new cases of diabetes were diagnosed in people aged 20 years and older, according to the American Diabetes Association. Metformin is commonly used to control blood sugar in diabetes patients.


10. Hydrochlorothiazide (HydroDIURIL)

Type of drug: diuretic (water pill)
Used to treat: high blood pressure
Number of prescriptions in 2010: 47.8 million
Number of prescriptions in 2009: 47.9 million

The tenth most popular drug treats high blood pressure, one of the major risk factors for heart disease and stroke. About 1 in 3 American adults currently have high blood pressure, which is more common among older adults, the overweight or obese, people with a family history, smokers, people who don’t exercise and African Americans.


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