Prescription drug use is on the rise

2 min read

More people than ever are taking prescription medications, according to a new study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Researchers found that, in 2011-12, 59% of U.S. adults used at least one prescription drug over the past 30 days, up from 50% a decade earlier. They also found that the share of people taking more than five prescription drugs in a month doubled to 15%.

“When we’re starting to see more and more adults using five or more drugs, it does raise a concern about the potential for drug interaction,” said lead author Elizabeth Kantor in a November 3, 2015 NPR article. Kantor led the study while at Harvard Chan School and is now an epidemiologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

Kantor speculated that the rise in prescription drug use may have to do with the rise in obesity, since many of the most widely prescribed drugs treat obesity-related conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. The study found, for example, that the share of people using cholesterol-lowering agents, mostly statins, jumped from 7% to 17%.

Senior author of the study, which appeared November 3, 2015 in JAMA, was Edward Giovannucci, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard Chan School.