Stable atherosclerotic plaque About 46% of adults ages 60 and older are taking drugs to lower blood cholesterol levels. (Image: Thinkstock)

Americans are good at popping pills.

About 46% of the U.S. population used one or more prescription drugs in the past 30 days, according to a survey from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

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With almost half the U.S. population taking drugs, it may be surprising that this figure is a slight improvement from the prescription drug use rate from 10 years earlier.

“Changing trends in prescription drug use over time may be influenced by changing disease prevalence and diagnosis, expanded treatment recommendations, and decline in the use of inappropriate or ineffective therapies,” according to the NCHS report.

The NCHS is an arm of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The types of prescription drugs Americans use vary by age group.

Medicine used to treat asthma was most common among the youngest cohort. For adolescents, between 12 to 19 years old, stimulants to treat attention deficit disorder were most common with about one in 16 adolescents with a prescription.

Both young and middle-aged adults used antidepressants the most frequently in the past 30 days. One in nine adults, 20 to 59 years old, has an antidepressants prescription.

Older adults, aged 60 and above, had the highest share of drug use at 85%. Nearly half of the older population used prescription drugs to combat high cholesterol, while more than one in five use anti-diabetic drugs.

The survey for the period 2015 to 2016 was conducted by the NCHS. The survey team conducted home interviews, and then followed the interviews with physical examinations.

Here’s a look at the top drug types used, broken down by patient age.

Ages 0-11 Years

  • Penicillin (infections): 2.7%
  • CNS stimulants (attention deficit disorder): 3.5%
  • Bronchodilators (asthma): 4.3%

Ages 12–19 Years

  • Oral contraceptives (birth control, regulate menstruation): 3.7%
  • Bronchodilators (asthma): 3.7%
  • CNS stimulants (attention deficit disorder): 6.2%

Ages 20–59 Years

  • Lipid-lowering drugs (high cholesterol): 7.5%
  • Analgesics (pain relief) 8.3%
  • Antidepressants: 11.4%

Ages 60 and Over

  • Anti-diabetic drugs: 22.6%
  • Beta-blockers (high blood pressure, heart disease): 24.8%
  • Lipid-lowering drugs (high cholesterol): 46.3%

 

— Read Drug Prices Drive Many Americans to Black Market for Medicines, on ThinkAdvisor.

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