Ranked: The Most Prescribed Drugs in the U.S.

The Most Prescribed Drugs in the U.S.

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Ranked: The Most Prescribed Drugs in the U.S.

Every day, millions of people in the U.S. take prescribed drugs to help them live their lives.

As our understanding of medicine has evolved, we’ve been able to develop drugs to aid with some of the most common medical conditions—from pain and blood pressure drugs to asthma medication, thyroid treatments, and antidepressants.

This graphic uses prescribed medicines data from the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, released in 2021 for the 2019 calendar year. It also uses supporting drug and health information from MedlinePlus.

What are the Most Prescribed Drugs in America?

Sorting the annual prescribed medicines data by the total number of patients highlights how important and prevalent some drugs are in America.

The most prescribed drug, atorvastatin (sold under brand Lipitor), was prescribed to 24.5 million people in the U.S. in 2019, or 7.5% of the population. It was one of many statin medications listed, which are used to prevent cardiovascular disease and treat abnormal lipid levels.

In fact, a majority of the most prescribed drugs in the U.S. are used to treat high blood pressure or symptoms of it. That’s because 108 million or nearly half of adults in the U.S. have hypertension or high blood pressure.

Drug Name Total U.S. Patients (2019) Brand Name Primary Use
Atorvastatin 24,493,971 Lipitor Cholesterol
Amoxicillin 20,368,921 Amoxil, Trimox Antibiotic
Lisinopril 19,990,170 Prinivil, Zestril Blood Pressure
Levothyroxine 19,698,087 Synthroid, Levoxyl Thyroid
Albuterol 19,085,418 Ventolin, Proventil Breathing
Metformin 17,430,765 Glucophage, Fortamet Diabetes
Amlodipine 16,419,181 Norvasc Blood Pressure
Metoprolol 15,177,787 Lopressor, Toprol XL Blood Pressure
Omeprazole 12,869,290 Losec, Prilosec Stomach Acid
Losartan 11,760,646 Cozaar Blood Pressure
Azithromycin 11,577,286 Zithromax, Azithrocin Antibiotic
Prednisone 10,999,246 Deltasone, Orasone Inflammation
Ibuprofen 10,951,995 Advil, Motrin Pain
Hydrocodone/Acetaminophen 10,409,764 Vicodin/Norco Pain (Opioid)
Gabapentin 9,818,634 Neurontin Seizures
Fluticasone 9,564,147 Flovent, Flonase Breathing
Hydrochlorothiazide 9,358,879 Apo-Hydro, Microzide Diuretic
Simvastatin 8,543,612 Zocor Cholesterol
Sertraline 7,723,122 Zoloft, Lustral Antidepressant
Montelukast 7,429,725 Singulair Breathing
Pantoprazole 6,777,996 Protonix Stomach Acid
Furosemide 6,640,042 Lasix, Frusemide Diuretic
Meloxicam 6,484,210 Mobic, Metacam Pain
Amoxicillin; Clavulanate 6,468,086 Augmentin, Clavulin Antibiotic
Cephalexin 6,267,878 Keflex, Ceporex Antibiotic
Rosuvastatin 6,129,254 Crestor, Rosulip Cholesterol
Escitalopram 5,544,406 Cipralex, Lexapro Antidepressant
Bupropion 5,520,278 Wellbutrin, Zyban Antidepressant
Tramadol 5,496,843 Ultram, Zytram Pain (Opioid)
Pravastatin 5,420,488 Pravachol, Selektine Cholesterol

Other common prescriptions include antibiotics like amoxicillin and azithromycin, used to treat bacterial infections, as well as levothyroxine, which was used by 19.7 million Americans to treat thyroid hormone deficiency.

Asthma medication albuterol (usually prescribed through an inhaler) rounded out the top five prescribed drugs with the most patients, followed closely by Type 2 diabetes medication glucophage.

The Top Medical Conditions Treated by Prescription Drugs

The prevalence of cardiovascular-related medication becomes clear when combining the total patients for each type of medication.

The total number of patients with prescribed medication for blood pressure or cholesterol combined for 33% of the U.S. population.

Compared to that, medication for pain or inflammation were the most frequent on the top 30 list with five occurrences, but were only prescribed to 13.6% of people. That includes hydrocodone (known by the brand name Vicodin) and tramadol (known by the brand name Ultram), two opioid medications.

Primary Use of Prescribed Drug U.S. Patients as % Pop (2019)
Blood Pressure 19.4%
Antibiotic 13.7%
Cholesterol 13.6%
Pain/Inflammation 13.6%
Breathing 11.0%
Thyroid 6.0%
Stomach Acid 6.0%
Antidepressant 5.7%
Diabetes 5.3%
Diuretic 4.9%
Seizures 3.0%

Most of the top 30 prescribed medications for specific conditions saw patients total less than 6% of the U.S. population. They include thyroid issues, gastrointestinal conditions, and mental conditions treated by antidepressants (including panic disorder, anxiety disorders, and PTSD).

But it’s important to remember that some patients have multiple prescriptions for serious conditions with multiple symptoms, or comorbid conditions—when more than one disease or condition is present at the same time.

Drug Spending in the U.S.

A prescribed drug’s total number of patients doesn’t necessarily reflect how important it is, or how expensive it is for the end user.

Levothyroxine is the fourth-most prescribed drug by total patients, but the second-most prescribed drug by total prescriptions with 102.6 million in 2019 at an average cost of $25.10 per prescription.

More specialized medication like fluticasone had significantly less total prescriptions with 27.9 million, but an average cost of $97.68 per prescription.

Prices are influenced by a drug’s demand, whether or not it’s patented or available in generic form, and a country’s healthcare system. As far as OECD countries go, the U.S. ranks as the most costly almost across the board.

Since the current rankings look at the U.S. pre-COVID, next year’s prescription data will be illuminating as to the state of American health (and healthcare).

The post Ranked: The Most Prescribed Drugs in the U.S. appeared first on Visual Capitalist.

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