NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 21, 2005

Over the past decade, the number of prescription drugs taken by Americans has increased by two-thirds to nearly 3.5 billion annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Currently, 130 million Americans take at least one prescribed medication every month, and Americans purchase more medicine per person than in any other country.


  • Drug reactions and medication errors account for 125,000 deaths annually, making pharmaceuticals the fourth leading cause of death after heart disease, cancer and stroke.
  • For every 100 hospital admissions, seven patients suffer adverse drug reactions while three suffer outright medication errors.

Furthermore, the use of prescription drugs imposes precipitous costs:

  • The majority of the pharmaceutical industry's $250 billion in sales last year was accounted for by prescription drugs, costing every American about $850.
  • Prescription drug sales have risen by about 11 percent per year over the past five years, contributing to rising health care costs.

Observers note that the aging population, as well as the push to sell prescriptions to generally healthy people, has contributed to the increase.

"We are taking way too many drugs for dubious or exaggerated ailments," according to Marcia Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Source: Jeff Donn, "Rising Rx Use a Troubling Trend," St. Paul Pioneer Press, April 17, 2005.

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