One Nation, on Vicodin: Narcotic Painkillers Are Most-Used U.S. Drugs

Last Updated Apr 20, 2011 3:12 PM EDT

America is a nation on painkillers, according to new statistics from IMS Health, the pharmaceutical data giant. About 131.2 million prescriptions were written for generic Vicodin (a hydrocodone/acetominophen combo), more than any other drug last year, IMS reported. The next most-prescribed drug was generic Zocor (simvastatin) for cholesterol.

There were also 31.9 million scrips written for generic Percocet (oxycodone and acetominophen), 31.1 million for ibuprofen (best-known as Advil) and 29.3 million for generic Neurontin (gabapentin), which is used for many things but frequently prescribed to manage long-term pain.

Taken together, doctors wrote 244.3 million narcotic painkiller prescriptions last year, the majority of which have an addiction risk. The U.S. population is 307 million -- so statistically enough scrips were written for 80 percent of all Americans, including children. Middle America is being ravaged by oxycodone addiction. The FDA is seeking tougher controls on drugs like OxyContin.

The most lucrative drug in 2010 was Pfizer (PFE)'s Lipitor, which has been the biggest-selling drug for years. It sold $7.2 billion last year. It was only the 12th most-prescribed drug, however, with 45.3 million scrips.

Purdue Pharma's non-generic OxyContin was the 15th best-seller, generating $3.1 billion in revenues -- it maintained its blockbuster status despite facing years of generic competition. The other painkiller brands didn't make the top 25 best-seller list because their generic status makes them so cheap. That's the one ray of light in the IMS stats -- while up to 63 percent of us may be guzzling mommy's little helpers on a regular basis, painkillers are not one of the main drivers of healthcare costs. You can blame cancer and diabetes for that, IMS says.



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Image by Flickr user veeliam, CC.