Context Data on the range of prescription and over-the-counter drug use in the
United States are not available.
Objective To provide recent population-based information on use of all medications,
including prescription and over-the-counter drugs, vitamins and minerals,
and herbal preparations/natural supplements in the United States.
Design, Setting, and Participants Ongoing telephone survey of a random sample of the noninstitutionalized
US population in the 48 continental states and the District of Columbia; data
analyzed here were collected from February 1998 through December 1999.
Main Outcome Measure Use of medications, by type, during the preceding week, compared by
Results Among 2590 participants aged at least 18 years, 81% used at least 1
medication in the preceding week; 50% took at least 1 prescription drug; and
7% took 5 or more. The highest overall prevalence of medication use was among
women aged at least 65 years, of whom 12% took at least 10 medications and
23% took at least 5 prescription drugs. Herbals/supplements were taken by
14% of the population. Among prescription drug users, 16% also took an herbal/supplement;
the rate of concurrent use was highest for fluoxetine users, at 22%. Reasons
for drug use varied widely, with hypertension and headache mentioned most
often (9% for each). Vitamins/minerals were frequently used for nonspecific
reasons such as "health" (35%); herbals/supplements were also most commonly
used for "health" (16%).
Conclusions In any given week, most US adults take at least 1 medication, and many
take multiple agents. The substantial overlap between use of prescription
medications and herbals/supplements raises concern about unintended interactions.
Documentation of usage patterns can provide a basis for improving the safety
of medication use.