Painkillers, diabetes drugs among most prescribed medications

The top 10 most prescribed drugs in America include pills to treat pain, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, according to a report published this week by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics. The best selling drug with more than 131 prescriptions dispensed was hydrocodone, the generic version of the painkiller Vicodin. The report also showed a new trend in prescription drugs. For the first time ever, less expensive generic drugs dominated brand name medications, making up 78 percent of all drugs sold in the United States in 2010. The cost savings in generics also drove down drug spending, which showed an increase of only 2.3 percent in 2010 compared to 5.1 percent the previous years.

The year 2010 brought the launch of 10 new innovative products with novel mechanisms of action including a new oral therapy for multiple sclerosis, a monoclonal antibody for osteoporosis and bone metastases, and a therapeutic vaccine for prostate cancer. There were also six New Chemical Entities (NCE), or novel biologics, bringing new options with existing mechanisms including new treatments for rheumatoid arthritis, prostate cancer and meningitis. Five orphan drugs, or treatments for diseases affecting less than 200,000 people per year, were launched in 2010 for diseases such as T-cell lymphoma, angioedema and renal cell carcinoma.

Despite the introduction of newly approved therapies, the number of patients starting new drug treatments for chronic conditions declined by 3.4 million.

While consumer spending on prescription drugs has slowed, another study on prescription drug use showed that patients often don’t fill prescriptions that are written for them. A report published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine involving data from nearly 200,000 outpatient electronic prescriptions showed that as many as 30 percent of prescriptions are never filled.

One reason may be cost. If a patient cannot afford a medication, he is less likely to fill it. Some patients also may be reluctant to fill prescriptions because the packaging is too difficult to understand.