Most popular drugs in America and how much we spend on medication

This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

Americans consume a lot of prescription drugs. And they seem especially fond of those to lower their cholesterol, relieve their heartburn, cheer them up and take away pain. Overall, however, their rate of spending on such drugs is slowing, a trend of the past decade.

A new report from consulting firm IMS Health offers a quick, but thorough, look at Americans’ consumption of, and spending on, prescription drugs. In 2010, the report says, we spent more than $307 billion on medication. That’s up over 2009, but only by 2.3%.

The report’s introduction frames the trend nicely: “A number of factors contributed to this comparatively and historically low growth, including fewer patient visits to doctors’ offices, patent expirations for branded products, expanded usage of existing generic products and less spending on new products.”


Now, drum roll, please...Here are the top five classes of drugs prescribed in America:

- Lipid regulators, called statins by most people. These drugs manage cholesterol to lower the risk of heart disease. (The top-selling drug, by the way, is Lipitor, a statin)

– Antidepressants. The selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIS, are the most popular, but a range of drugs are used to improve mood, sleep and concentration in depressed patients.

- Narcotic analgesics, also known as pain medications.


RELATED: Prescription drug abuse: U.S. announces strategies to reduce painkiller abuse, reduce overdoses.

- Beta blockers. These drugs lower blood pressure by blocking norepinephrine and epinephrine thereby reducing the heart rate.

- Ace inhibitors. These drugs also lower blood pressure, but by dilating blood vessels.

Here are the top five drugs by sales:


- Lipitor – used to treat high cholesterol. Lipitor lowers “bad” LDL cholesterol while raising “good” HDL cholesterol.

- Nexium – prescribed for heartburn relief. Nexium is in a class of drugs called proton-pump inhibitors that reduce acid produced in the stomach.

- Plavix – used to reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke. Plavix keeps platelets in the blood from coagulating, preventing blood clots in people who have already had a heart attack or stroke, or for those at high risk.

- Advair diskus – an inhaled medication to treat asthma symptoms or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It is made of two substances: fluticasone, a steroid to prevent inflammation, and salmeterol, to relax muscles in the airway to improve breathing.


- Abilify – an antipsychotic. It’s used to treat conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and has been heavily marketed.

The report also tells us what we’re spending the most money on. At the top of the list -- oncologics. Otherwise known as cancer drugs.

For the record, 3:45 p.m. April 21: A previous version of the article stated that the overall spending on drugs is slowing. Actually, the rate of spending on drugs is slowing, while overall spending is still growing. See page 4 here for a graphic showing U.S. spending on drugs.