Prescription Drug Use Varies across the US

June 19, 2001 ( - The geographic variation in drug use, pointed to by recent research, can be partly attributed to physician prescribing habits, the health status of a state's population, and consumer preferences.

Pharmacy benefits management company Express Scripts measured per capita prescription drug use across the nation.

It used a random sample of commercially insured members, age 18 to 64, of its pharmacy benefit plans. Results varied across both states and therapy type.

Healthy State

The states with the lowest prescription drug use were:

  • New York, California, Massachusetts and Colorado, with 7.7 prescriptions per person per year
  • Minnesota with 8.1
  • Florida and New Jersey, both at 8.2.

On the other extreme, the states with the highest prescription drug use were found to be:

  • Kentucky, West Virginia, and Ohio, where per capita prescription drug use exceeded 11 prescriptions per year
  • Louisiana was a close fourth at 11 prescriptions per member per year
  • Texas was not far behind at 10.5.

Express Scripts noted that geographic patterns of prescription drug usage by adults also fluctuated across conditions being treated. Notable findings, adjusted for age and gender, included:

  • higher rates of antidepressant use in Utah, Maine, Oregon, and Washington
  • higher rates of cardiovascular medication use in the Southern states including West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, Mississippi and Louisiana
  • higher rates of anti-diabetic medication use in West Virginia, Texas, North Carolina, Utah and Ohio
  • lower rates of asthma medication use in the South, specifically Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and South Carolina
  • lower rates of antihyperlipidemics use in New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho, Alabama, Montana and California
  • lower rates of estrogen use among women in Northeastern states, such as New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts.

Overall, prescription drug use grew by 3.6%, from an average 8.3 to 8.6 prescriptions per member per year between 1999 and 2000

Showing the most significant utilization increases were:

  • gastrointestinal
  • antidepressant
  • anti-rheumatic
  • cardiovascular drugs.

Research also showed 5% of the people receiving drug benefits account for more than 50% of the spending. This high cost group includes those with cancer, diabetes or cardiovascular disease. In addition, it is likely that a high cost prescription drug user in one year will be a high cost user the following year.

Rates of use for certain drug classes are very high among the highest cost adult patients, specifically:

  • almost half use antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications
  • some 46% use pain medications
  • two-fifths use anti-ulcer medications
  • almost three out of five use anti-hypertensives.

Click here for the full Drug Trend Report.