According to the nonprofit Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, spending on prescription drugs in the U.S. multiplied nearly six times from $40.3 billion in 1990 to $234.1 billion in 2008.
From 1999 to 2009 the number of prescriptions dispensed rose from 2.8 billion to 3.9 billion (39 percent increase) compared to a U.S. population growth of only nine percent over the same period.
In 2009, West Virginia had the highest rate of prescription drug use in the country, according to data gathered from retail pharmacies and compiled by health care information company SDI. West Virginia filled 18.4 prescriptions per capita, compared with a national per-capita average of 11.6 prescriptions.
In the second-most medicated state, Tennessee, there were 16.9 retail prescriptions filled per capita. More than 65 percent of adults in the state can be classified as obese or overweight and 10 percent of all adults have diabetes. Alabama, Kentucky and Arkansas round out the top five states with the highest prescription drug use.
In West Virginia many patients have "comorbid" conditions that require a cocktail of drugs to treat. Of the adult population in West Virginia:
• 12.3 percent have diabetes
• More than 68 percent are obese or overweight
• 27 percent are smokers
• Nearly 30 percent report poor mental health
• Nearly 20 percent report having a disability
• 229,400 per 100,000 deaths in West Virginia were the result of heart disease (above the national average of 190,000)
West Virginia’s Medicaid program, which in 2009 had 393,187 beneficiaries, does not limit the number of prescriptions most patients can receive through the program.
Nationwide the growth in prescription drug use may be attributed to the development of a wide range of treatments for various medical conditions, an increased ease of obtaining a prescription from a doctor and the general rise in obesity, diabetes and heart disease among adults.
As a result some experts say many patients may be taking more pills than they should.
Pain relievers used for nonmedical purposes are now the second most common type of illicit drug use, after marijuana.