Newborn babies in the US can spend half their lives taking prescription drugs

Americans are taking more prescription drugs and using them longer than ever before, according to a new study.

The first study to estimate the lifetime burden of prescription drugs in the United States predicts that children born in 2019 will spend half their lives taking certain medications prescribed by their doctors.

The study was conducted by sociologist Jessica Ho from Pennsylvania State University and was based on data from 1996 to 2019, taken from an annual, longitudinal national survey of drug use every year. year in America.

“This article is not trying to say whether prescription drug use is good or bad,” Ho said. “Clearly, they have made a difference in the treatment of many conditions, but there are growing concerns about how much treatment is too much.”

The findings show a sharp increase in prescription drug use among both sexes, nearly every age group, and all races considered, but especially among older White women.

“The proportion of Americans’ lives spent using large amounts of drugs at one time is substantial and has increased dramatically over time,” Ho wrote.

“These trends may be related to a number of factors, including the increasing burden of obesity, longer survival with chronic diseases, and increased treatment of high blood pressure and cholesterol.”

But it’s also true that life expectancy in America has generally increased over time. Ho believes that the influence of the pharmaceutical industry and current culture as well as the limitations of the health system also play important roles in the rise of prescription drugs.

In 1996, Ho’s research showed that no man of any age was likely to use five or more drugs for more than a third of his remaining life.

By 2019, men And Women over 50 can expect to take five or more medications for about half of their remaining lives.

Percentage of US men using 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 or more major prescription drugs between 1996 and 2019. (Ho et al., Demographic2023)

For older men born in later years, prescriptions for high blood pressure medications increased “a lot,” nearly doubling during the study period. For women, the biggest increase in prescriptions was for antidepressants.

Ho writes: “A baby girl born in 1996 could expect to be on antidepressants for 5.55 years; By 2019, this number had more than doubled to 12.52 years.

At all ages, women were found to use more drugs and for longer than men.

Prescription for women
Percentage of US women taking zero, one, two, three, four, and five or more major prescription drugs between 1996 and 2019. (Ho et al., Demographic2023)

For example, the average male baby born in 2019 could have been on prescription drugs for 37 years of his life in Ho’s study.

By comparison, a baby girl born in 2019 is expected to take prescription drugs for 48 years of her life.

Part of the difference is that women live longer than men and are prescribed drugs much earlier. For example, only by age 40 do half of all men use prescription drugs. Women reach that milestone at age 15.

“Gender differences in drug use are multifaceted and related to many factors, including the fact that contraceptives are still primarily aimed at women,” Ho writes.

Compared with Whites, Ho found that Blacks and Hispanics go longer in their lives without taking any prescription drugs.

Since these groups also have higher mortality rates than Whites, the difference may be due to inequities in medical care.

But while it’s true that many prescription drugs can help control disease and improve health and longevity, more drugs are not necessarily better. A “cure-all pill” can come with some serious unintended downsides.

The more medications a person takes, the greater the risk of negative side effects and interactions, leading to an increased risk of falls, cognitive problems, and death.

Each year in the US, about 1.3 million emergency department visits are due to medication side effects, primarily from blood thinners, diabetes medications, heart medications, anti-seizure medications, and opioid pain relievers. .

In fact, prescription drugs are the leading cause of death in healthcare systems worldwide, not just in the US.

The United Nations has warned that each year, medication errors related to prescribing, distribution, administration and monitoring cost the world $42 billion.

Older adults are especially vulnerable to the negative effects of medications because not only do they take more medications in general, but they are also more likely to forget when and how to take them.

‘Prescribing’ unnecessary drugs in a supervised setting could improve quality of life and ease the financial burden for millions of patients, although scientists are still studying how to do it that safely and effectively.

“Americans are taking statins, antihypertensives, and antidepressants for most of their lives,” Ho wrote.

“However, for a phenomenon that occurs across much of life and has enormous potential to influence health, happiness and other outcomes, it is surprisingly understudied. “

From now on, Ho says it’s essential that we study how high and sustained levels of prescription drugs, taken over years to decades, actually affect mental health and well-being. How long does it take?

The study was published on Demographic.

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