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Prescription Drug Use Increased Over The Last Decade, Study Says


Today in Your Health, just how safe is hormone replacement therapy? But first, Alison Kodjak on a new study showing prescription drug use is on the rise.

ALISON KODJAK, BYLINE: Sixty percent of adults take prescription medications. In a study from Harvard's public health school shows that number has been increasing steadily for more than a decade. Lead author Elizabeth Kantor says there are lots of reasons why medication use is growing.

ELIZABETH KANTOR: There's the whole obesity epidemic. There's policy changes and new recommendations coming out and drugs entering the market and exiting the market. And there's so many things happening at once that I think it's really hard to pinpoint exactly what's driving each trend.

KODJAK: The study shows the most widely used drugs treat diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. But an intriguing finding is the spike in the use of antidepressants. The number of people over 40 being treated for depression has doubled in the last decade.

WALID GELLAD: I would say that's concerning.

KODJAK: Walid Gellad is a professor of medicine and health policy at the University of Pittsburg.

GELLAD: Some may need to be on the medication, but why are rates so high?

KODJAK: One clue - a separate study last week showed suicides and drug overdoses among middle-aged white people are soaring. Overall, Gellad says, the growing use of medications in general may be good news or not.

GELLAD: If you're on five pills and you need to be and it's improving your life, making you feel better and reducing your risk of heart attacks, you know, that's good. But if everyone is on five medicines because doctors aren't taking the time to talk to them or we're not exercising enough or eating too much salt or whatever it might be, that's a problem.

KODJAK: He says the study is a good base to begin to figure that out. Alison Kodjak, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alison Fitzgerald Kodjak is a health policy correspondent on NPR's Science Desk.