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

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The Most Prescribed Drugs in the U.S. Main

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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 NameTotal U.S. Patients (2019)Brand NamePrimary Use
Atorvastatin24,493,971LipitorCholesterol
Amoxicillin20,368,921Amoxil, TrimoxAntibiotic
Lisinopril19,990,170Prinivil, ZestrilBlood Pressure
Levothyroxine19,698,087Synthroid, LevoxylThyroid
Albuterol19,085,418Ventolin, ProventilBreathing
Metformin17,430,765Glucophage, FortametDiabetes
Amlodipine16,419,181NorvascBlood Pressure
Metoprolol15,177,787Lopressor, Toprol XLBlood Pressure
Omeprazole12,869,290Losec, PrilosecStomach Acid
Losartan11,760,646CozaarBlood Pressure
Azithromycin11,577,286Zithromax, AzithrocinAntibiotic
Prednisone10,999,246Deltasone, OrasoneInflammation
Ibuprofen10,951,995Advil, MotrinPain
Hydrocodone/Acetaminophen10,409,764Vicodin/NorcoPain (Opioid)
Gabapentin9,818,634NeurontinSeizures
Fluticasone9,564,147Flovent, FlonaseBreathing
Hydrochlorothiazide9,358,879Apo-Hydro, MicrozideDiuretic
Simvastatin8,543,612ZocorCholesterol
Sertraline7,723,122Zoloft, LustralAntidepressant
Montelukast7,429,725SingulairBreathing
Pantoprazole6,777,996ProtonixStomach Acid
Furosemide6,640,042Lasix, FrusemideDiuretic
Meloxicam6,484,210Mobic, MetacamPain
Amoxicillin; Clavulanate6,468,086Augmentin, ClavulinAntibiotic
Cephalexin6,267,878Keflex, CeporexAntibiotic
Rosuvastatin6,129,254Crestor, RosulipCholesterol
Escitalopram5,544,406Cipralex, LexaproAntidepressant
Bupropion5,520,278Wellbutrin, ZybanAntidepressant
Tramadol5,496,843Ultram, ZytramPain (Opioid)
Pravastatin5,420,488Pravachol, SelektineCholesterol

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 DrugU.S. Patients as % Pop (2019)
Blood Pressure19.4%
Antibiotic13.7%
Cholesterol13.6%
Pain/Inflammation13.6%
Breathing11.0%
Thyroid6.0%
Stomach Acid6.0%
Antidepressant5.7%
Diabetes5.3%
Diuretic4.9%
Seizures3.0%

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).

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Charted: The World’s Aging Population from 1950 to 2100

This graphic visualizes the world’s aging population, showing data for every country and territory around the world.

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Charted: The World’s Aging Population from 1950 to 2100

As demographics continue to shift in the 21st century, the world’s aging population will continue to be a focal point for many global decision makers.

Most countries around the world have experienced population explosions, or are about to. Combine this with declining birth rates and falling mortality rates, and it’s clear that the global senior population will continue to reach new heights.

These graphics by Pablo Alvarez use data from the 2022 UN World Population Prospects to visualize this increasing aging population across countries.

The World’s Aging Population from 1950 to 2100

In 2022, there were 771 million people aged 65+ years globally, accounting for almost 10% of the world’s population.

This segment has been growing at an increasing rate, and it’s expected to hit 16% in 2050, and eventually 24% by 2100. Here’s what that’s projected to look like, for every country and territory.

Country by Population Aged +65 Years195020222100
🇦🇫 Afghanistan2.85%2.39%16.03%
🇦🇱 Albania6.04%16.66%49.08%
🇩🇿 Algeria3.49%6.39%28.83%
🇦🇸 American Samoa2.38%7.27%45.41%
🇦🇩 Andorra10.02%14.98%37.04%
🇦🇴 Angola2.93%2.6%12.07%
🇦🇮 Anguilla3.69%10.71%37.49%
🇦🇬 Antigua and Barbuda4.14%10.63%35.4%
🇦🇷 Argentina4.13%11.92%31.79%
🇦🇲 Armenia8.17%13.15%36.13%
🇦🇼 Aruba1.77%16.15%36.51%
🇦🇺 Australia8.17%16.9%31.38%
🇦🇹 Austria10.42%19.81%33.93%
🇦🇿 Azerbaijan6.89%7.11%30.5%
🇧🇸 Bahamas4.76%8.89%29.58%
🇧🇭 Bahrain2.88%3.76%21.89%
🇧🇩 Bangladesh3.9%6.04%32.56%
🇧🇧 Barbados5.24%16.28%33.19%
🇧🇾 Belarus8.24%17.18%30.45%
🇧🇪 Belgium11.03%19.73%32.83%
🇧🇿 Belize3.57%5.09%29.21%
🇧🇯 Benin7.85%3.06%11.03%
🇧🇲 Bermuda5.71%20.41%37.73%
🇧🇹 Bhutan2.53%6.25%33.35%
🇧🇴 Bolivia6.11%4.85%21.75%
🇧🇶 Bonaire Sint Eustatius and Saba14.22%13.84%28.94%
🇧🇦 Bosnia and Herzegovina3.95%18.4%36.4%
🇧🇼 Botswana4.32%3.65%17.96%
🇧🇷 Brazil2.39%9.88%33.52%
🇻🇬 British Virgin Islands8.63%9.95%32.47%
🇧🇳 Brunei4.85%6.17%30.93%
🇧🇬 Bulgaria6.66%22.38%37.13%
🇧🇫 Burkina Faso2.01%2.53%13.07%
🇧🇮 Burundi3.22%2.48%13.23%
🇰🇭 Cambodia2.67%5.81%26.43%
🇨🇲 Cameroon3.47%2.67%11.89%
🇨🇦 Canada7.7%19.03%31.55%
🇨🇻 Cape Verde3.67%5.55%32.63%
🇰🇾 Cayman Islands6.05%8.17%28.75%
🇨🇫 Central African Republic5.%2.51%11.43%
🇹🇩 Chad4.33%2.01%9.64%
🇨🇱 Chile3.3%13.03%36.61%
🇨🇳 China5.04%13.72%40.93%
🇨🇴 Colombia3.22%9.%34.49%
🇰🇲 Comoros3.8%4.28%17.81%
🇨🇬 Congo3.36%2.72%11.99%
🇨🇰 Cook Islands2.94%11.73%29.75%
🇨🇷 Costa Rica2.97%10.83%36.99%
🇨🇮 Cote d'Ivoire2.21%2.4%10.86%
🇭🇷 Croatia7.82%22.36%37.03%
🇨🇺 Cuba4.36%15.81%36.31%
🇨🇼 Curacao5.82%14.95%30.46%
🇨🇾 Cyprus5.95%14.83%33.36%
🇨🇿 Czechia8.29%20.64%26.94%
🇨🇩 Democratic Republic of Congo3.77%2.92%10.62%
🇩🇰 Denmark9.04%20.49%30.45%
🇩🇯 Djibouti1.99%4.54%19.68%
🇩🇲 Dominica7.67%9.53%34.28%
🇩🇴 Dominican Republic2.72%7.4%30.47%
🇪🇨 Ecuador5.2%7.83%31.97%
🇪🇬 Egypt2.95%4.83%21.77%
🇸🇻 El Salvador3.93%8.22%36.02%
🇬🇶 Equatorial Guinea5.53%3.12%15.13%
🇪🇷 Eritrea3.2%4.01%19.86%
🇪🇪 Estonia10.56%20.58%34.15%
🇸🇿 Eswatini2.68%4.%16.26%
🇪🇹 Ethiopia3.01%3.14%18.6%
🇫🇴 Faeroe Islands7.59%17.92%26.91%
🇫🇰 Falkland Islands8.27%11.08%35.86%
🇫🇯 Fiji5.99%5.9%20.6%
🇫🇮 Finland6.63%23.27%34.04%
🇫🇷 France11.39%21.66%34.23%
🇬🇫 French Guiana7.96%5.98%21.13%
🇵🇫 French Polynesia3.%10.07%37.85%
🇬🇦 Gabon7.21%3.89%16.25%
🇬🇲 Gambia2.5%2.43%16.06%
🇬🇪 Georgia9.35%14.61%31.19%
🇩🇪 Germany9.46%22.41%33.72%
🇬🇭 Ghana4.62%3.55%15.91%
🇬🇮 Gibraltar6.94%20.84%37.63%
🇬🇷 Greece6.8%22.82%37.52%
🇬🇱 Greenland3.06%10.02%29.16%
🇬🇩 Grenada5.12%10.07%30.54%
🇬🇵 Guadeloupe5.51%20.04%34.45%
🇬🇺 Guam1.11%11.84%31.19%
🇬🇹 Guatemala2.31%4.91%28.05%
🇬🇬 Guernsey11.96%16.64%35.4%
🇬🇳 Guinea5.39%3.32%14.%
🇬🇼 Guinea-Bissau3.45%2.82%14.34%
🇬🇾 Guyana3.89%6.28%28.94%
🇭🇹 Haiti3.64%4.54%19.07%
🇭🇳 Honduras3.96%4.27%26.5%
🇭🇰 Hong Kong2.48%20.47%41.64%
🇭🇺 Hungary7.81%20.01%31.85%
🇮🇸 Iceland7.52%15.33%34.25%
🇮🇳 India3.1%6.9%29.81%
🇮🇩 Indonesia1.74%6.86%25.28%
🇮🇷 Iran5.22%7.62%33.72%
🇮🇶 Iraq2.79%3.41%18.44%
🇮🇪 Ireland10.99%15.14%32.48%
🇮🇲 Isle of Man13.9%22.29%31.8%
🇮🇱 Israel4.%12.04%25.97%
🇮🇹 Italy8.09%24.05%38.19%
🇯🇲 Jamaica3.83%7.45%44.05%
🇯🇵 Japan4.89%29.92%38.7%
🇯🇪 Jersey12.34%16.22%30.52%
🇯🇴 Jordan5.03%3.84%27.3%
🇰🇿 Kazakhstan6.47%8.04%19.58%
🇰🇪 Kenya5.28%2.87%16.98%
🇰🇮 Kiribati7.13%3.81%17.33%
🇽🇰 Kosovo5.33%10.19%43.35%
🇰🇼 Kuwait2.88%4.93%31.56%
🇰🇬 Kyrgyzstan7.91%4.54%21.08%
🇱🇦 Laos2.13%4.45%25.24%
🇱🇻 Latvia10.12%21.86%32.86%
🇱🇧 Lebanon7.24%9.89%32.11%
🇱🇸 Lesotho6.34%4.2%13.44%
🇱🇷 Liberia2.97%3.31%13.88%
🇱🇾 Libya5.21%4.86%27.77%
🇱🇮 Liechtenstein7.89%19.37%34.79%
🇱🇹 Lithuania8.65%20.8%32.79%
🇱🇺 Luxembourg9.71%15.03%31.55%
🇲🇴 Macao3.11%13.%32.39%
🇲🇬 Madagascar3.25%3.35%16.21%
🇲🇼 Malawi3.06%2.61%15.61%
🇲🇾 Malaysia4.91%7.5%30.78%
🇲🇻 Maldives3.14%4.78%35.61%
🇲🇱 Mali2.78%2.38%11.%
🇲🇹 Malta7.42%19.13%38.26%
🇲🇭 Marshall Islands5.68%4.56%17.8%
🇲🇶 Martinique5.85%22.77%37.31%
🇲🇷 Mauritania1.44%3.22%15.03%
🇲🇺 Mauritius3.18%12.79%33.76%
🇾🇹 Mayotte6.61%2.88%18.15%
🇲🇽 Mexico2.99%8.32%34.88%
🇫🇲 Micronesia (country)4.11%6.16%27.59%
🇲🇩 Moldova7.56%12.98%26.36%
🇲🇨 Monaco15.64%35.92%30.16%
🇲🇳 Mongolia3.87%4.61%26.18%
🇲🇪 Montenegro7.85%16.55%34.16%
🇲🇸 Montserrat7.92%17.7%33.05%
🇲🇦 Morocco2.86%7.72%29.97%
🇲🇿 Mozambique3.13%2.57%13.43%
🇲🇲 Myanmar3.21%6.82%23.69%
🇳🇦 Namibia4.1%3.97%15.38%
🇳🇷 Nauru8.98%2.5%15.87%
🇳🇵 Nepal2.74%6.09%29.51%
🇳🇱 Netherlands7.76%20.31%32.89%
🇳🇨 New Caledonia5.%11.02%31.61%
🇳🇿 New Zealand9.09%16.31%33.2%
🇳🇮 Nicaragua2.71%5.29%28.92%
🇳🇪 Niger.92%2.4%9.76%
🇳🇬 Nigeria3.%2.97%12.31%
🇳🇺 Niue4.79%15.16%22.55%
🇰🇵 North Korea2.72%11.71%30.49%
🇲🇰 North Macedonia5.87%14.91%36.56%
🇲🇵 Northern Mariana Islands2.95%10.81%32.09%
🇳🇴 Norway9.52%18.44%31.65%
🇴🇲 Oman3.05%2.76%23.96%
🇵🇰 Pakistan5.48%4.27%17.23%
🇵🇼 Palau8.59%9.93%21.48%
🇵🇸 Palestine4.77%3.53%23.44%
🇵🇦 Panama3.57%8.77%30.03%
🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea1.09%3.19%16.81%
🇵🇾 Paraguay3.73%6.26%26.51%
🇵🇪 Peru3.43%8.41%30.33%
🇵🇭 Philippines3.56%5.44%23.38%
🇵🇱 Poland5.22%18.55%35.69%
🇵🇹 Portugal7.%22.9%36.28%
🇵🇷 Puerto Rico3.63%22.93%48.9%
🇶🇦 Qatar3.5%1.52%15.01%
🇷🇪 Reunion3.81%13.28%32.4%
🇷🇴 Romania7.16%18.64%32.22%
🇷🇺 Russia4.8%15.8%27.86%
🇷🇼 Rwanda2.76%3.2%17.36%
🇧🇱 Saint Barthlemy7.3%10.61%43.89%
🇸🇭 Saint Helena8.63%28.66%32.61%
🇰🇳 Saint Kitts and Nevis5.36%10.13%29.79%
🇱🇨 Saint Lucia3.59%9.23%33.39%
🇲🇫 Saint Martin (French part)4.47%11.14%30.08%
🇵🇲 Saint Pierre and Miquelon6.34%17.32%33.4%
🇻🇨 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines7.71%10.86%32.34%
🇼🇸 Samoa2.52%5.22%18.75%
🇸🇲 San Marino10.15%20.47%35.73%
🇸🇹 Sao Tome and Principe3.92%3.76%15.6%
🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia3.32%2.81%30.28%
🇸🇳 Senegal3.42%3.14%16.54%
🇷🇸 Serbia6.15%20.56%37.55%
🇸🇨 Seychelles10.68%8.16%28.84%
🇸🇱 Sierra Leone3.02%3.14%15.52%
🇸🇬 Singapore2.29%15.12%36.51%
🇸🇽 Sint Maarten (Dutch part)12.03%10.57%34.51%
🇸🇰 Slovakia6.63%16.98%33.4%
🇸🇮 Slovenia7.52%20.96%33.59%
🇸🇧 Solomon Islands4.03%3.47%15.29%
🇸🇴 Somalia2.6%2.57%10.75%
🇿🇦 South Africa4.06%5.89%20.55%
🇰🇷 South Korea2.74%17.49%44.44%
🇸🇸 South Sudan3.48%2.89%13.11%
🇪🇸 Spain7.23%20.27%38.72%
🇱🇰 Sri Lanka8.76%11.54%35.73%
🇸🇩 Sudan3.03%3.5%13.28%
🇸🇷 Suriname4.09%7.39%25.8%
🇸🇪 Sweden10.19%20.25%31.83%
🇨🇭 Switzerland9.49%19.31%32.61%
🇸🇾 Syria7.66%4.68%24.62%
🇹🇼 Taiwan2.11%16.71%37.32%
🇹🇯 Tajikistan4.34%3.47%19.43%
🇹🇿 Tanzania2.2%3.1%14.97%
🇹🇭 Thailand3.21%15.21%39.17%
🇹🇱 Timor3.14%5.21%25.42%
🇹🇬 Togo4.29%3.13%11.77%
🇹🇰 Tokelau4.7%8.66%25.03%
🇹🇴 Tonga4.6%6.22%21.65%
🇹🇹 Trinidad and Tobago3.93%11.52%32.67%
🇹🇳 Tunisia4.4%9.02%31.24%
🇹🇷 Turkey3.77%8.64%33.9%
🇹🇲 Turkmenistan5.84%5.15%21.55%
🇹🇨 Turks and Caicos Islands5.79%10.34%28.25%
🇹🇻 Tuvalu4.98%6.48%16.15%
🇺🇬 Uganda2.87%1.69%14.33%
🇺🇦 Ukraine7.54%18.81%33.2%
🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates3.35%1.83%15.77%
🇬🇧 United Kingdom10.84%19.17%32.56%
🇺🇸 United States8.18%17.13%30.47%
🇻🇮 United States Virgin Islands7.54%20.42%39.11%
🇺🇾 Uruguay8.23%15.58%35.98%
🇺🇿 Uzbekistan5.87%5.14%22.24%
🇻🇺 Vanuatu5.65%3.74%16.29%
🇻🇪 Venezuela2.29%8.61%27.71%
🇻🇳 Vietnam4.13%9.12%30.02%
🇼🇫 Wallis and Futuna1.76%13.47%32.98%
🇪🇭 Western Sahara2.82%5.84%23.73%
🇾🇪 Yemen3.98%2.66%18.25%
🇿🇲 Zambia2.76%1.75%12.66%
🇿🇼 Zimbabwe3.18%3.32%14.22%
🌐 World5.13%9.82%24.03%

Some of the places with high elderly shares today include high-income countries like Japan (30%), Italy (24%), and Finland (23%).

The lowest shares are concentrated in the Middle East and Africa. Many countries have just 2% of their population aged 65 years and older, such as Qatar, Uganda, and Afghanistan.

But over time, almost all countries are expected to see their older population segments grow. In just three decades, it is estimated that one-in-four European, North American, and Asian residents will be over 65 years of age.

By 2100, a variety of Asian countries and island nations facing low population growth are expected to see more than one-third of their populations aged 65 years or older, including South Korea and Jamaica at 44%. However, it’s actually Albania that’s the biggest outlier overall, with a projected 49% of its population to be aged 65 and older by 2100.

Passing the Generational Torch

The challenge of an aging population is set to impact all sectors of society, including labor and financial markets, demand for housing and transportation, and especially family structures and intergenerational ties.

One way to help grasp the nature of transition is to note the changing ratio between seniors and young children in the world population, as seen in the below crossover diagram:

Elderly population surpass that of children aged 5 and below

Dropping fertility rates, in addition to improved child and infant mortality rates, are known to have played a major role in the plateauing population of children.

However, not all countries have witnessed this crossover yet, as it usually coincides with higher levels of economic development.

As countries such as India, Brazil, and South Africa reach higher levels of per capita income, they will be likely to follow down the paths of more advanced economies, eventually experiencing similar demographic fates and challenges.

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