Ranked: The Most Prescribed Drugs in the U.S.
Connect with us

Healthcare

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

Published

on

The Most Prescribed Drugs in the U.S. Main

Can I share this graphic?
Yes. Visualizations are free to share and post in their original form across the web—even for publishers. Please link back to this page and attribute Visual Capitalist.
When do I need a license?
Licenses are required for some commercial uses, translations, or layout modifications. You can even whitelabel our visualizations. Explore your options.
Interested in this piece?
Click here to license this visualization.

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).

Click for Comments

Misc

Explainer: What to Know About Monkeypox

What is monkeypox, and what risk does it pose to the public? This infographic breaks down the symptoms, transmission, and more.

Published

on

Explainer: What to Know About Monkeypox

The COVID-19 pandemic is still fresh in the minds of the people around the world, so it comes as no surprise that recent outbreaks of another virus are grabbing headlines.

Monkeypox outbreaks have now been reported in multiple countries, and it has scientists paying close attention. For everyone else, numerous questions come to the surface:

  • How serious is this virus?
  • How contagious is it?
  • Could monkeypox develop into a new pandemic?

Below, we answer these questions and more.

What is Monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a virus in the Orthopoxvirus genus which also includes the variola virus (which causes smallpox) and the cowpox virus. The primary symptoms include fever, swollen lymph nodes, and a distinctive bumpy rash.

There are two major strains of the virus that pose very different risks:

  • Congo Basin strain: 1 in 10 people infected with this strain have died
  • West African strain: Approximately 1 in 100 people infected with this strain died

At the moment, health authorities in the UK have indicated they’re seeing the milder strain in patients there.

Where did Monkeypox Originate From?

The virus was originally discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo in monkeys kept for research purposes (hence the name). Eventually, the virus made the jump to humans more than a decade after its discovery in 1958.

It is widely assumed that vaccination against another similar virus, smallpox, helped keep monkeypox outbreaks from occurring in human populations. Ironically, the successful eradication of smallpox, and eventual winding down of that vaccine program, has opened the door to a new viral threat. There is now a growing population of people who no longer have immunity against the virus.

Now that travel restrictions are lifting in many parts of the world, viruses are now able to hop between nations again. As of the publishing of this article, a handful of cases have now been reported in the U.S., Canada, the UK, and a number of European countries.

On the upside, contact tracing has helped authorities piece together the transmission of the virus. While cases are rare in Europe and North America, it is considered endemic in parts of West Africa. For example, the World Health Organization reports that Nigeria has experienced over 550 reported monkeypox cases from 2017 to today. The current UK outbreak originated from an individual who returned from a trip to Nigeria.

Could Monkeypox become a new pandemic?

Monkeypox, which primarily spreads through animal-to-human interaction, is not known to spread easily between humans. Most individuals infected with monkeypox pass the virus to between zero and one person, so outbreaks typically fizzle out. For this reason, the fact that outbreaks are occurring in several countries simultaneously is concerning for health authorities and organizations that monitor viral transmission. Experts are entertaining the possibility that the virus’ rate of transmission has increased.

Images of people covered in monkeypox lesions are shocking, and people are understandably concerned by this virus, but the good news is that members of the general public have little to fear at this stage.

I think the risk to the general public at this point, from the information we have, is very, very low.
–Tom Inglesby, Director, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security

» For up-to-date information on monkeypox cases, check out Global.Health’s tracking spreadsheet

Continue Reading

Healthcare

Visualizing How COVID-19 Antiviral Pills and Vaccines Work at the Cellular Level

Despite tackling the same disease, vaccines and antiviral pills work differently to combat COVID-19. We visualize how they work in the body.

Published

on

Current Strategies to Tackle COVID-19

Since the pandemic started in 2020, a number of therapies have been developed to combat COVID-19.

The leading options for preventing infection include social distancing, mask-wearing, and vaccination. They are still recommended during the upsurge of the coronavirus’s latest mutation, the Omicron variant.

But in December 2021, The United States Food and Drug Administration (USDA) granted Emergency Use Authorization to two experimental pills for the treatment of new COVID-19 cases.

These medications, one made by Pfizer and the other by Merck & Co., hope to contribute to the fight against the coronavirus and its variants. Alongside vaccinations, they may help to curb extreme cases of COVID-19 by reducing the need for hospitalization.

Despite tackling the same disease, vaccines and pills work differently:

VaccinesPills
Taken by injectionTaken by mouth
Used for prevention Used for treatment only
Create an enhanced immune system by stimulating antibody productionDisrupt the assembly of new viral particles

How a Vaccine Helps Prevent COVID-19

The main purpose of a vaccine is to prewarn the body of a potential COVID-19 infection by creating antibodies that target and destroy the coronavirus.

In order to do this, the immune system needs an antigen.

It’s difficult to do this risk-free since all antigens exist directly on a virus. Luckily, vaccines safely expose antigens to our immune systems without the dangerous parts of the virus.

In the case of COVID-19, the coronavirus’s antigen is the spike protein that covers its outer surface. Vaccines inject antigen-building instructions* and use our own cellular machinery to build the coronavirus antigen from scratch.

When exposed to the spike protein, the immune system begins to assemble antigen-specific antibodies. These antibodies wait for the opportunity to attack the real spike protein when a coronavirus enters the body. Since antibodies decrease over time, booster immunizations help to maintain a strong line of defense.

*While different vaccine technologies exist, they all do a similar thing: introduce an antigen and build a stronger immune system.

How COVID Antiviral Pills Work

Antiviral pills, unlike vaccines, are not a preventative strategy. Instead, they treat an infected individual experiencing symptoms from the virus.

Two drugs are now entering the market. Merck & Co.’s Lagevrio®, composed of one molecule, and Pfizer’s Paxlovid®, composed of two.

These medications disrupt specific processes in the viral assembly line to choke the virus’s ability to replicate.

The Mechanism of Molnupiravir

RNA-dependent RNA Polymerase (RdRp) is a cellular component that works similar to a photocopying machine for the virus’s genetic instructions. An infected host cell is forced to produce RdRp, which starts generating more copies of the virus’s RNA.

Molnupiravir, developed by Merck & Co., is a polymerase inhibitor. It inserts itself into the viral instructions that RdRp is copying, jumbling the contents. The RdRp then produces junk.

The Mechanism of Nirmatrelvir + Ritonavir

A replicating virus makes proteins necessary for its survival in a large, clumped mass called a polyprotein. A cellular component called a protease cuts a virus’s polyprotein into smaller, workable pieces.

Pfizer’s antiviral medication is a protease inhibitor made of two pills:

  1. The first pill, nirmatrelvir, stops protease from cutting viral products into smaller pieces.
  2. The second pill, ritonavir, protects nirmatrelvir from destruction by the body and allows it to keep working.

With a faulty polymerase or a large, unusable polyprotein, antiviral medications make it difficult for the coronavirus to replicate. If treated early enough, they can lessen the virus’s impact on the body.

The Future of COVID Antiviral Pills and Medications

Antiviral medications seem to have a bright future ahead of them.

COVID-19 antivirals are based on early research done on coronaviruses from the 2002-04 SARS-CoV and the 2012 MERS-CoV outbreaks. Current breakthroughs in this technology may pave the way for better pharmaceuticals in the future.

One half of Pfizer’s medication, ritonavir, currently treats many other viruses including HIV/AIDS.

Gilead Science is currently developing oral derivatives of remdesivir, another polymerase inhibitor currently only offered to inpatients in the United States.

More coronavirus antivirals are currently in the pipeline, offering a glimpse of control on the looming presence of COVID-19.

Author’s Note: The medical information in this article is an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. Please talk to your doctor before undergoing any treatment for COVID-19. If you become sick and believe you may have symptoms of COVID-19, please follow the CDC guidelines.

Continue Reading

Subscribe

Popular