March 29, 2023

Tough Pills: Overmedicated America?


Tough Pills: Overmedicated America?

Not only are people now taking more medications than ever, but doctors are prescribing more than ever, too. Let’s take a look at the state of over-prescribing in the U.S. and what the medical world is doing to combat the problem.

Prescription Drug Use in the U.S.


Percentage of Americans who take prescription drugs for various health reasons (1)


Number of medications the average American takes annually (2)


Percentage of U.S. healthcare costs spent on prescription drugs in the 1970s; that amount has doubled since. (2)

$200 billion

Increase in prescription drug spending by U.S. government in the past two decades (2)

The Main Offenders


Antibiotics are the most over-prescribed medication in the country.

10% of sore throat cases in adults are due to strep throat, but doctors admit to prescribing antibiotics in 60% of patients with sore throats that they see. (3)

Penicillin, the most common antibiotic, is prescribed in 9% of doctor visits in the U.S. (3)

Because of the over-prescribing of antibiotics, the bacteria that these drugs are meant to kill have adapted to them, creating “superbugs.” (4)

2 million people become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year, resulting in 23,000 annual deaths. (4)

Psychiatric drugs


Percentage of Americans with mental health disorders who are being treated solely with medication. In 1998, that number was 44%. (5)


Percentage of Americans 12 and older who are taking antidepressants (4)


Because of the over-diagnosis of ADHD in children, stimulants like Ritalin are over-prescribed.

Today, about 5 million children carry the diagnosis of ADHD in the U.S., and nearly 2 million are using the drugs prescribed to treat the disorder. Because of the stimulating side effects, Ritalin is one of the most abused prescription drugs by young people.(6)


259 million

Number of prescriptions doctors wrote for painkillers in 2012 (4)


Number of deaths in 2010 from opioid overdose (4)

A Problem on the Mend

Many programs are now available to both doctors and pharmacists that help stop the over-prescribing of medication. Though some of these focus mainly on controlled substances, they can be used to track all patient prescriptions and medical history.


This system allows doctors to create digital, shared records of a patient’s medical history. It is the first line of defense against over-prescribing.(7)

Prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs)

PDMPs can be checked by doctors and pharmacists to see a patient’s medication history and present intake. These programs give pharmacists access to data analytics so that they can spot potential problem prescribers. (7)