Chronic Health Problems Afflict More Than Half Of Americans
Americans have tipped the scale. For the first time, a majority of the insured population is being treated for a chronic medical condition, raising serious concerns about the health of the nation.
Research released today by Medco Health Solutions shows that in 2007, 51 percent of insured Americans were taking prescription drugs to treat at least one chronic health problem. Not only is it now a majority, but many of these patients are on multiple medications. According to the analysis, one fifth of the population used three or more of these chronic drug treatments last year.
"It appears that we have now reached the tipping point where treating chronic diseases and conditions is more common than not," said Dr. Robert Epstein, Medco's chief medical officer. "This data does paint a pretty unhealthy picture of America. But there is a silver lining; it does show that people are receiving treatment which can prevent more serious health problems down the road."
While seniors show the highest prevalence of chronic medication use, younger adults are quickly catching up. Surprisingly, nearly half (48 percent) of women ages 20-44 are being treated for a chronic condition, as compared to one third of men their age. Antidepressants are the most commonly used medication among this group, with 16 percent of 20-44 year-old women taking them. This demographic also claimed the sharpest increases in the number of patients on chronic medications, rising more than 20 percent between 2001 and 2007.
Young at Heart
Treatments for high cholesterol and high blood pressure were the top medications used by the general population, with more than one-in-five people on antihypertensives and almost one-in-seven on cholesterol-lowering drugs, according to the research that reviewed prescription claims of some 2.5 million insured Americans. These were also among the top four medications taken by 20-44 year-old men, whose use of cholesterol drugs surged more than 80 percent over a seven year period.
"Younger people are increasingly being treated for heart disease-related conditions such as high cholesterol and hypertension," said Dr. Epstein. "There's no doubt that rising rates of obesity are having a major impact on our health. These chronic conditions are incredibly costly for the nation and will become exponentially so if we're seeing these problems show up at a younger and younger age."
Additional Research Findings
Chronic Medication Use in Children: Nearly 30 percent of children ages 19 and under take a chronic medication; asthma and allergy drugs are most commonly prescribed, followed by medications to treat attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and antidepressants. The number of girls taking ADHD medications rose 72 percent from 2001-2007.
Women Using Less HRTs and More Cholesterol Drugs: Use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in women ages 45 to 64 dropped to 15 percent in 2007, half of what it was in 2001 when HRT was the most commonly used medication by this age group; hypertension drugs were the top medication for these women in 2007 and their use of cholesterol-lowering drugs nearly doubled over the seven years.
Seniors on Multiple Medications: Among older Americans ages 65 and up, 28 percent of females and 22 percent of males take five or more chronic medications.
Medco's Prescription for Care
In response to the growing numbers of patients with chronic conditions, Medco has developed a new clinical approach to treating some of the most common chronic conditions in today's complex prescribing environment. One of the latest advances to Medco's practice of pharmacy is the Medco Therapeutic Resource Centers, where more than 1,100 specialist pharmacists trained in specific disease states such as diabetes, cardiovascular conditions, asthma and neurological disorders provide counseling to patients with customized care -- helping them achieve better clinical outcomes.
"Specialist pharmacists are a critical component in improving the care model for treating patients with chronic disease," states Epstein. "As their numbers and costs rise, it becomes ever more important to provide these patients with a high level of specialized care to help them better manage their conditions and their drug costs."