Magazine article Drug Topics

Is the Growth in Our Drug Tab Sustainable?

Magazine article Drug Topics

Is the Growth in Our Drug Tab Sustainable?

Article excerpt

The levels of drug use and expenditures have changed dramatically in the past 150 years. From 1857 to 1929, information on these trends was largely anecdotal in nature. It was only in 1929 that the Department of Commerce reported its first annual census of prescription drug distribution. This was followed, in 1932, by the first annual financial analysis of independent pharmacies, supported by Eli Lilly. Then in 1939, Drug Topics conducted its first annual prescription census, using a representative sample of drugstores from every state. What follows are some observations about trends in drug pricing, using the sources cited above as well as others.

Prescription expenditures. Just before the Great Depression, in 1929 to be exact, the United States spent $208 million on prescriptions. By 1954, this had zoomed to more than $1 billion. Then by last year, just 38 drug products accounted for more than $1 billion. In 2006, prescription drug spending at the retail level was estimated to be about $251 billion. All of the drug expenditure levels reported above include only retail prescriptions.

Prescription drugs sold through hospitals, physician offices, clinics, outpatient treatment centers, nursing homes, government facilities, and other nonretail settings are estimated to add another $110-$120 billion, for a total drug tab of about $360 billion in 2006.

Number of prescriptions. The number of prescriptions has grown substantially over time as well. In 1929, the U.S. Rx census recorded 225 million prescriptions dispensed. In 2006 retail prescriptions dispensed are expected to exceed four billion. Mail-order prescriptions are counted in these numbers and have been adjusted to retail equivalent prescriptions (30 days' supply/Rx).

Annual prescription use per person. Use of prescriptions on a per-capita basis has also grown exponentially in the past 75 years. …

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