A new study on prescription drug usage in the United States by researchers at Penn State University in the US, reveals that an American born in 2019 will spend a larger share of their lifetime taking prescription drugs than being married or receiving an education. The study found that American males will spend approximately 48 percent of their lives taking prescription drugs, with this number jumping to 60 percent for females.

Being aware of the medications you are using, and how long you can expect to take them to control or overcome a health condition, is important in determining the implications that prescription drugs could have on your body over the long term. The study, which showed the central role that prescription drugs have taken in our lives, noted that the time people now spend taking prescription drugs is higher than what they spend in their first marriage, or in getting an education, or being engaged in the labor force.

For their study the researchers used data from surveys in the US conducted by Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from 1996 through 2019 to study prescription drug use across states in America. The researchers then used mortality data from the National Center for Health Statistics and the Human Mortality Database in the US to estimate how long Americans born in 2019 could expect to live. They then combined this information with the survey data to estimate the percent of their lifetime that the participants could expect to spend taking prescription medications.

The study found that the majority of American men are taking prescription drugs by age 40, while most American women are taking prescription drugs by age 15. On average, a newborn boy in 2019 could expect to take prescription drugs for approximately 37 years, or 48 percent of his life. A newborn girl in 2019 could expect to take them for approximately 47.5 years, or 60 percent of her life.

The study explained that women start taking prescription drugs earlier than men do, with some of this early usage being related to birth control and hormonal contraceptives, as well as the greater use of psychotherapeutic drugs used to treat conditions such as depression, anxiety and ADHD among women. Men, on the other hand, tend to take more statins and other medications to treat cardiovascular disease, with the statin use varying across race and ethnicity, she said.

The study also found that rates of polypharmacy — when an individual takes five or more drugs at the same time — have risen to alarming levels. In the mid-1990s, most people taking prescription medications were on one drug. Today, individuals taking prescription medications are equally likely to be taking five or more medications.

The findings have implications for Americans’ health and health care expenditures. Many of the drugs that individuals are on for 40 or 50 years have only been on the market for the past five decades, so their long-term effects on the body are still unknown. Additionally, polypharmacy puts the individual at greater risk for drug interactions and adverse health outcomes. A related study found thatUS prescription drug expenditures hit $335 billion in 2018, and that this figure is projected to increase to $875 billion, or 15.4 percent of national health expenditures, by 2026.

While prescription drugs have made a significant difference in treating many health conditions, there are growing concerns on how much of this usage is too much. Despite the increase in usage of prescription medications, several studies have shown that Americans are less healthy and live shorter lives today, than their counterparts in other high-income countries.

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