Pills for Everything: The Power of American Pharmacy

Photo courtesy of Victor Casale via Flickr.

Studies show that 70% of Americans are on prescription drugs, more than half take two, and 20% take five or more. Why? Because there’s a pill for that.

Breaking Updates

Update 11/15/2013: Healthy Americans advised to take anti-cholesterol pills, at big benefit of the pharmaceutical industry. Click to expand update.

Both the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology have issued new cholesterol guidelines that advise Americans to take “statins,” pills effective for people with known heart disease. Patients are now advised to take statins if they are at least a 7.5% risk for heart failure or stroke.

But for those at less than 20% risk of heart disease, the NY Times reports, statins do not lower the risk of death or illness, and also could cause 18% of patients experience mild to severe side effects.

Therefore, pushing Statins on patients without known heart disease essentially provides a riskier and more expensive alternative to healthier ways to counter high cholesterol, such as dieting, exercising, and quitting smoking.

It is estimated by NY Times author and Harvard lecturer John D. Abramson that such criteria will increase the number of healthy people statins are recommended by almost 70 percent, suggesting the pharmaceutical industry will thrive far more than patients.


According to a study by the Mayo Clinic in June of 2013,  seven in ten Americans regularly take prescription drugs. Half of Americans were found to be taking two, and 20% to be taking a total of five or more.

At the top of the list of most commonly prescribed drugs are antibiotics, followed by antidepressants, with painkillers ranking in third.

Statistics on American Pharmaceuticals

Statistics new and old say a lot about the increased presence of pharmacy in America, what kind of drugs are being prescribed to people and what is being treated. Seeing as the percentage of prescription drug use was reported at 50% in 2008 by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the fact that the number has risen by 20 percentage points is extremely significant.

At this rate of growth, we could be up to closer to 90% by 2018.

Where antidepressants are concerned, the CDC found that 11 percent of Americans over age 12 are medicated. The number is even higher for middle aged women – and in fact, higher than that of any country in the world – at 22.8% for females ranging in age from 40-59.

Add children into the mix, and the numbers aren’t more promising. The Wall Street Journal reports that more than 25% of U.S. kids and teens take medication on a chronic basis, according to Medco Health Solutions Inc’s 2009 database.

According to an article in Vanity Fair, 200,000 Americans die per year from prescription drug use.

What’s the deal?

While it’s good that Americans have access to the drugs they need to be treated, the sheer amount may seem startling. The reason may be that these days there seems to be a pill for everything – be it a physical or emotional issue, or even an issue that has yet to manifest.

Physician and researcher J. Douglas Bremner MD, author of ‘Before You Take That Pill: Why the Drug Industry May be Bad for Your Health, tells us that “The US spends two times more on drugs, and takes twice as many drugs, as other countries, and has worse health.” This amounts to a major prescription drug problem, in his opinion, and implies that not only are we paying too much for too many drugs, but that on a whole they are not working.

The problem may also be that Americans have grown accustomed to easy fixes, and that we place much of our trust in a system that might not always have the right answer for us. Instead of seeking alternative methods, such as exercise, diet, and therapy, we assume that even if the doctor prescribes an apple a day, a pill a day is probably better.

Just keep in mind: If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, a pill a day will likely keep him around. With these “quick fixes” can come long term dependence – even addiction and risky side effects.

Of course, there are many advantages to having a medical system that is both able and present – so perhaps these numbers are just an indication of a helpful and thriving pharmaceutical industry, and its ability to aid people. It would seem, however, that dependence on pharmacy is higher than it needs to be.

What is your take?  Tweet us @curiousmatic. We’d love to know your thoughts!

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Jennifer Markert