Prescription drugs now taken by nearly half of adults

prescription drugsAccording to the latest report published by the Health Survey for England by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), around half of women and 43% of men are now taking prescription medications.

The new study – the first of its kind – probed into our nation’s pill-popping habits, discovering that the most commonly prescribed medicines are cholesterol-lowering statins such as atorvastatin and pravastatin (taken by 16% of men and 12% of women), and drugs for high blood pressure (hypertension) come in at a close second in the most often prescribed drugs list (taken by 14% of men and 15% of women).

The HSCIC report represents the very first nationwide representative assessment of medicines taken by people in the community, as opposed to within the healthcare system. It includes both those on long-term drugs and those taking a short course of antibiotics.

The report states that there were an average of 18.7 prescriptions administered per person in England during 2013, which reportedly sets back the NHS more than £15 billion each year.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, the new figures show that there are generally more prescription drugs taken by people as age increases, with over half of those aged 65 or over taking three or more medicines and over a third aged 75 or over take at least six.

Dr Jennifer Mindell, reader in public health at University College London and one of the authors in the report, argued the statistics should be taken in context due to the fact people are in better health than previous times and generally live longer in the modern day, primarily because of drugs for prevention and treatment of disease.

Dr Mindell commented: “That half of men over 65 are taking cholesterol-lowering medicines reflects the high risk of cardiovascular disease in this group. Stopping smoking, being a healthy weight, eating more vegetables and fruit, and being physically active reduce people’s risk of these diseases, for people who want to avoid taking medicines.”

The figures show that almost a third of prescriptions were for cardiovascular disease, with in excess of 65 million prescriptions given to combat either high blood pressure, heart failure or high cholesterol, but excludes the number of people using contraceptives and smoking cessation products, such as Champix.

The most single prescribed drug was Simvastatin – a cholesterol lowering treatment – with a staggering 40 million prescriptions given, followed by aspirin (31 million).

Antidepressant drugs were found to be taken by over one in 10 women – this is double the figure for men. These types of drugs were often taken by middle-aged women and those from the poorest regions of the country. It was found 17% of the poorest women were on antidepressants compared to 7% of the richest women.

Dr Sarah Jackson, at University College London, said: “It’s well known that rates of depression are much higher among women than men, so I am not surprised to see that antidepressant use follows the same pattern in this study. People with depression are less likely to be in regular employment, and people who are unemployed or in low paid jobs are more likely to have depression.”

In addition, the reported highlighted the fact that overweight and obese people were more probably going to be taking prescription medication, with over half of severely obese people across England taking at least one prescription drug and a third taking at least three.

Sue Faulding, a pharmacist and programme manager of prescribing and primary care services at the HSCIC, commented: “Obesity is often associated with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, joint pain and depression. Lifestyle changes are always recommended in the first instance, but medicines can help to address the symptoms and this study shows that medicine use increases steadily with body mass index.”

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