US spends $233 billion per year on prescription drugs

A new report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) shows that, in 2008, insurers and consumers spent nearly $233 billion on a wide array of prescription drugs. The number one class of drugs (accounting for $52.2 billion, 22% of the total) was metabolic medicine used to control diabetes and cholesterol.

The next four “biggest sellers” of outpatient prescription drugs in 2008 were :

• Central nervous system drugs, used to relieve chronic pain and control epileptic seizures and Parkinson’s Disease tremors – $35 billion.

• Cardiovascular drugs , including calcium channel blockers and diuretics – $29 billion.

• Antacids, antidiarrheals, and other medicines for gastrointestinal conditions – $20 billion.

• Antidepressants, antipsychotics, and other psychotherapeutic drugs – $20 billion.

Overall purchases of these five therapeutic classes of drugs totaled nearly $156 billion, or two-thirds of the almost $233 billion that was spent on prescription medicines used in the outpatient treatment of adults.

Most industry experts say the prescription and spending figures have continued to climb since 2008 and will soon top $300 billion, despite overwhelming evidence that diet can effectively control both diabetes and cholesterol in almost all cases.

A study published in the Sept. 1, 2009 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that 56% of patients following what has been called the “Mediterranean diet” (a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats, including olive oil, with an emphasis on lean protein sources such as fish, chicken and nuts) were able to control their blood sugar without medication. That same group also showed improvements in triglyceride and HDL cholesterol levels.

In addition, there is significant clinical evidence that chiropractic care, including correction of subluxation, can impact neurologic function and, as a result, have a beneficial effect on both blood sugar and cholesterol levels. By educating patients about alternatives to prescription drugs, chiropractors can help reduce the negative effects of these conditions.

SOURCES: “Expenditures for the Top Five Classes of Outpatient Prescription Drugs, Adult ages 18 and Older, 2008,” Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ),

“Effects of a Mediterranean-Style Diet on the Need for Antihyperglycemic Drug Therapy in Patients With Newly Diagnosed Type 2 Diabetes,” Annual of Internal Medicine, Sept. 1, 2009, vol. 151 no. 5 306-314. Abstract online