Patients: Is the US becoming less healthy or are their doctors more receptive to marketing?

June 20, 2008

For the first time in history, more than half of insured Americans are taking prescription drugs for a chronic health problem.

For the first time in history, more than half of insured Americans (51 percent) are taking prescription drugs for a chronic health problem. In fact, one in five was on three or more medications last year, with drugs for high blood pressure and cholesterol the most commonly prescribed. The research from Medco Health Solutions showed greater numbers of young adults being treated for chronic conditions, with antidepressant use rising in women aged 20 to 44. Men in that age group saw their use of cholesterol-lowering drugs increase by 80 percent over a seven-year period.

Some say the jump in prescription-drug use has been aided by drug companies' influence on doctors. To curtail this influence-or at least make it more transparent-Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Herb Kohl (D-WI) introduced the Physician Payments Sunshine Act of 2008 last fall. The pending legislation would require drug and device companies to file an annual report detailing payments or gifts to any individual physician that total more than $500 in a calendar year. The bill recently won the support of Eli Lilly, makers of Prozac and Humulin, as well as the Washington, DC-based Association of American Medical Colleges. If passed, the legislation would take effect March 31, 2011.