Rx Use More Common Than Not

Prescription medication use is on the rise making safety more important than ever

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D. Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) As the aging population has increased, medication use has increased. Not telling healthcare providers about current medications can put a person at risk for a bad reaction.

In a recent study, researchers looked at prescription medication patterns in a county in Minnesota. The researchers found that nearly seven out of 10 people in that county were on at least one prescription medication.

The researchers recommended people keep a list of all prescriptions they are taking to give to healthcare providers in order to reduce the possibilities bad reactions between prescriptions.

"Keep your Rx list up-to-date."

Wenjun Zhong, PhD, and Jennifer L. St. Sauver, PhD, MPH, from the Division of Epidemiology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, worked with a team of researchers to investigate the use of prescription medications in the US.

“The percentage of people who took at least one prescription drug in the past month increased from 44 percent in 1999-2000 to 48 percent in 2007-2008,” wrote the study authors.

Bad reactions to, or bad interactions between, prescription medications in US hospitals and emergency departments increased 52 percent between 2004 and 2008, according to the authors.

For this study, the researchers looked at prescription medication records for Olmsted County, Minnesota, in 2009.

Overall, there were 142,377 people in the medical records system for Olmsted County and 68 percent of those people had received a prescription for at least one class of medications.

The researchers found that 52 percent of these patients had received prescriptions from at least two, and 21 percent had received prescriptions from five or more classes of medications.

The most commonly prescribed medications were:

  • Antibiotics, taken by 17 percent of the patients
  • Antidepressants, taken by 13 percent of the patients
  • Opioid painkillers, taken by 12 percent of the patients
  • Cholesterol control medications, taken by 11 percent of the patients
  • Vaccines, taken by 11 percent of the patients

For persons younger than 19 years of age, the most commonly prescribed medications were vaccines, antibiotics and asthma control medications.

The researchers found the most common prescription for young adults between 19-29 years of age was birth control, but obviously this prescription was only prescribed to women.

Antidepressants were the most commonly prescribed prescription among adults between 30-49 years of age. Among this age group, 17 percent of prescriptions were antidepressants and the rate was higher among women at 22 percent.

Among older adults, 41 percent of patients 65 years of age and older were prescribed cholesterol control medications.

“Overall, women and older adults received more prescriptions,” wrote the authors.

The study authors noted that these prescribing patterns were not unique to Olmsted County, and were consistent with other population-based studies in the US.

“As a pharmacist actively involved in medication dispensing, I am not too surprised by the results of this study.  Prescription medication usage has been on the rise for some time, and is likely to continue to do so as the average age of our population increases,” Jason Poquette, BPharm, RPh, told dailyRx. 

“However, the finding that 20 percent of patients are currently on 5 or more medications does highlight several important considerations.” 

“I believe patients should strive to have all their medications filled in one pharmacy, ideally a local community pharmacy, so their profile can be carefully evaluated for potential drug interactions by a pharmacist who knows them.” 

“Also, it is important for patients to carry an updated list of all the medicines they use, so healthcare providers know exactly what their patient currently takes – especially since multiple doctors may be involved.” 

“Finally, I always recommend patients talk regularly to their local pharmacist and/or physician about any concerns they may have about their medicines.  Patients who take an active role in managing their medications and conditions typically experience much better outcomes,” said Dr. Poquette, who was not involved with this study.

This study was published in June in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

The Rochester Epidemiology Project and the Mayo Clinic Center for the Science of Healthcare Delivery helped support funding for this project. No conflicts of interest were reported by the study authors.

Review Date: 
June 24, 2013
Last Updated:
September 6, 2013