If you’re an American, there’s a good chance that you – or someone you know – regularly take a prescription drug every day, such as those used to treat chronic or long-term conditions, like high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.
A recent study from CivicScience looked at the demographics and behaviors of regular prescription drug users, finding that the majority of the population takes some kind of a maintenance prescription medication every day. An online poll of 9,216 respondents found that more than half of U.S. adults take one or more prescription drugs per day. In fact, nearly 20% take 4 or more prescription medications daily.
In perspective, that’s higher than the CDC’s 2014 estimates and similar to data reported in 2017, indicating that the number of Americans using prescription drugs daily is growing.
To put those numbers in a global context, consider that leading research organizations, such as the US National Research Council, have found Americans to be overall less healthy than other wealthy nations.
That said, given that conditions like heart disease and diabetes typically affect older adults, it’s not surprising that the likelihood of taking maintenance prescription drugs daily, and of taking more than one drug, increases with age by the time you’re 30, as the study shows.
It found that a total of 84% of those 65 and older report taking prescription drugs every day, compared to about one-third of 18-29-year-olds.
The percentage of adults requiring 4 or more medications daily jumps dramatically from the 35-44-year-old to the 45-54-year-old age groups, and then continues to nearly double with each successive age group, ending up at 41% of seniors.
The study also found that women are slightly more likely than men to take 1-2 medications daily, but average the same rate when it comes to taking 3-4 or more daily meds.
Income and Self-Perception
Does income have anything to do with maintenance drug usage? Yes, the study reveals. Findings indicate that if you make less than $100K per year, you are more likely to take 4 or more maintenance prescription drugs on a daily basis.
At first glance, that disparity doesn’t appear to be much of a contrast — a 5% difference. However, age is everything here. When isolating the sample exclusively for those 30-year-olds and over (given that we start to see more prescription drug users by age 30), wider chasms in income levels surface.
The lowest earners in the 30+ group, those who make $50k or less per year, are nearly twice as likely as those making $150k or above to take 4 or more drugs daily.
The less money you make, the more likely you are to take 4 or more maintenance prescription drugs daily. The data echoes a 2017 Harvard study that found poorer Americans report worse health than rich Americans.
When it comes to self-perception of health, things aren’t different in 2019. Surveying over 198,000 U.S. adults, CivicScience found that the less money you make, the worse your self-perception of health is. One-quarter of those making $50k or less report being “somewhat” or “very” unhealthy.
Following that, drug usage coincides with how healthy Americans perceive themselves to be. CivicScience learned that Americans who take 3-4 prescription drugs per day rate are far more likely to negatively rate their overall health — 32% say they are “somewhat” or “very” unhealthy, compared to just 13% of people who take 1-2 meds daily.
Daily prescription drug usage, income and health perception are all interconnected, painting the picture that the less money you earn and the older you get, the greater your chances are to have poorer health.
However, data shows that trend is consistent among 30-64-year-olds, but evens out with the 65 and over crowd (of which the majority is retired). At that point, age dominates and income doesn’t matter when it comes to how many drugs adults are taking daily.
Access to Prescription Drugs
How are people receiving their prescription drugs?
In terms of health insurance, employer-sponsored insurance is the single most common way that maintenance prescription drug takers receive healthcare coverage, while government-assisted insurance is second.
That makes sense given that adults 65 and over are the heaviest daily prescription drug users (3-4+ daily), and qualify for Medicare. Even so, it’s interesting to note that other types of government-assisted health insurance (e.g., Medicaid) still rank second most-common among younger adults aged 18-64 who take 3-4 prescription drugs daily.
When it comes to pharmacies, data mirrors earlier reported trends that looked at total prescription drug traffic. For daily maintenance prescription drug users specifically, national chain pharmacies (Rite Aid, CVS, etc.) are the most popular. In-store pharmacies, like those in Walmart or grocery stores, rank second.
Yet, online pharmacies are close behind, especially favored by those who take 3 or more daily prescription drugs.
In fact, online pharmacies are significantly more favored by those who take daily prescription drugs than the general population. Only 11% of the general population who purchases prescription drugs buys them through an online pharmacy. Online pharmacies may offer a greater advantage to repeat customers.
Daily prescription drug use also goes hand-in-hand with credit card debt, the study finds. Nearly half of those who take 3-4 prescriptions drugs daily report having credit card debt, compared to 36% of those who don’t take any.
Given that lower income earners take more medications, it makes sense to question whether or not this is simply coincidence; if you make less money, you would spend more on credit in general. However, CivicScience data shows that more than one-third of all income brackets have credit card debt. In fact, those earning between $50-150k per year are the most affected by it.
In other words, there’s a good chance that having to keep a medicine cabinet stocked with 3 or daily prescription meds is racking up credit card debt, especially considering the high costs of healthcare and the rising costs of prescription drugs in the U.S.
One source estimates prescription drug costs rose 41% between 2007 and 2017, driving some patients to illegally source their meds through alternative outlets.
The study uncovered several lifestyle differences between maintenance prescription drug users and non-users, particularly regarding exercise, alcohol consumption, and vitamin/supplement usage.
When it comes to exercise, there are only slight variations between non-users and those who take 1-2 meds daily, with about 60% exercising throughout the week or month. But those numbers stand in stark contrast to adults taking 3 or more maintenance drugs — close to 60% say they almost never or never exercise.
Consider that exercise among those 65 and older, who take significantly more daily medications than younger adults, may be hampered by limited mobility.
However, looking exclusively at 18-64-year-olds showed little difference in exercise trends among those taking 3 or more daily meds. Lack of exercise could be related to disability and other serious medical health conditions, or it could also be one of the precursors to developing certain chronic diseases. It’s well-documented that exercise has tremendous health benefits. The takeaway here is the numbers show exercise and taking multiple daily medications exist in an inverse relationship.
The heaviest beer drinking is most favored among those who take 1-2 meds daily, even more so than those who take no maintenance drugs. Again, we see a significant difference with the 3-or-more-meds population, where very few (12%) drink beer multiple times per week.
Prescription drugs aren’t the only daily doses being consumed. More than half of all adults who take maintenance prescription drugs also take vitamins or supplements every day. Those who take 3 or more prescription drugs per day are the most likely to also take daily vitamins or supplements.
Taking a step back, the study shows that on the whole, there are noticeable differences between the 55% of respondents who take daily prescription drugs.
Those taking the highest amounts of maintenance prescription drugs (particularly 4 or more per day) tend to stand out in nearly every way, even compared with those who take 1-2 drugs per day. It’s a given that they skew older, but it’s key to note that they also make less money, have more credit card debt, report worse overall health, and have different consumer and health-related habits/behaviors.
Check out a recent CivicScience report on weight in America.