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New ASHP Survey Unveils Snapshot of Medication Use in U.S.

Kate Traynor

ASHP recently released the results of a new survey (PDF) that 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 focused on consumers’ use of prescription and nonprescription 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 10 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 3 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 or 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 age 65 or over 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.

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