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1/16/2001
Press Release

Pharmacist Organization Unveils Snapshot of Medication Use in U.S.

A new survey reveals that over half (51%) of American adults take two or more medications each day.  In addition, almost half of Americans (46%) take at least one prescription medicine each day, while more than a quarter (28%) take multiple prescription medications daily.  The survey of 1,000 Americans, commissioned by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP), focused on consumers' use of prescription and non-prescription medications, including herbal supplements and vitamins.

The survey, which also probed for information about whether hospital patients report medication use to health care providers, revealed that nearly ten percent (8%) of respondents do not inform hospital personnel about medications they are taking. Most respondents who report their medication use do so by telling a doctor or nurse (39%) or both (18%). Only three percent of respondents said they bring their medications with them to the hospital.

Rates of prescription medication use were highest among older Americans. Seventy-nine percent of respondents age 65 and over reported taking one prescription medication each day compared with respondents age 55 to 64 (63%), age 45 to 54 (52%), and age 44 years or younger (28%). Americans over age 65 who take prescription medications take an average of four each day.

Among respondents who reported use of a prescription medication in the past week, the majority (61%) indicated the medication was for a long-term health condition. Twenty-four percent said they are treating a recurring health problem, while 10 percent indicated they are treating a short-term, acute health condition.

Along with prescription medications, consumers are also taking multiple non-prescription drugs, herbal supplements, and vitamins. According to the survey, nearly two-thirds (58%) of respondents reported taking an average of two non-prescription medications in the past week. Nearly one-third indicated they take an average of two non-prescription medications each day.

When asked about use of herbal supplements or vitamins, one third (39%) reported taking an average of four in the past week. More than one third (40%) reported taking an average of two herbal supplements or vitamins each day.

"Our survey shows that consumers are simultaneously using a variety of prescription and non-prescription medications, as well as herbal supplements and vitamins," said ASHP President Mick L. Hunt, M.S. "We want patients to be aware of the potential for drug interactions that can occur when mixing all of these remedies, especially when taking multiple medications each day. Patients and customers should know that they can always turn to their pharmacist for answers to their medication-related questions."

To ensure that medications are used safely and effectively, ASHP recommends that consumers:

  • Keep a list of all drug therapies, including prescription and non-prescription drugs, home remedies, and medical foods and show it to their health care provider.
  • Communicate actual self-medication practices to health care providers, especially if how the medication is taken varies from the originally prescribed directions.
  • Contact their health-system pharmacist with any questions regarding treatments or medications.
  • Learn the names of prescribed drug products as well as their dosage strengths and schedules.
  • Ask if there are certain foods, beverages, other medicines, or activities that should be avoided while taking a prescribed medication.
  • Request any written information available on the drug product.
  • Question anything they do not understand or that does not seem right. 
  • Be alert to unexpected changes, such as receiving a prescription refill that seems to have a different strength or appearance from your original prescription.

ASHP is the 30,000-member national professional association that represents pharmacists who practice in hospitals, health maintenance organizations, long-term care facilities, home care, and other components of health-care systems. ASHP, which has a long history of medication-error prevention efforts, believes that the mission of pharmacists is to help people make the best use of medicines. Assisting pharmacists in fulfilling this mission is ASHP's primary objective. The Society has extensive publishing and educational programs designed to help members improve their delivery of pharmaceutical care, and it is the national accrediting organization for pharmacy residency and pharmacy technician training programs.