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Prescription drugs are constantly in the news: talk of pharmaceutical company endorsements, the rising cost of drugs and doctors over-prescribing their patients have plagued news sites and late-night TV shows alike.

Perhaps it’s because the pharmaceutical business is such a money-maker: global healthcare mergers and acquisitions reached $398.5 billion as of July 23, and pharmaceutical giant Teva recently announced plans to buy Allergan, their major competitor, for a whopping $40.5 billion. The stakes are high in the world of prescription drugs.

At HealthGrove, we wanted to find out which drugs are prescribed to the most Americans. We gathered data from The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which details information on drugs that were prescribed by health care providers in 2013 under the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan (Part D). We then looked at the numbers and found which 25 drugs were prescribed to the most Medicare Part D beneficiaries, of which there are over 35 million.

Proair HFA

  • Brand Names: Accuneb, ProAir HFA, Proventil, Proventil HFA, ReliOn Ventolin HFA, Ventolin, Ventolin HFA
  • # of Prescriptions in 2013: 2.7 Million
  • Treats: Bronchospasm

Proair HFA (also known as Albuterol) is used to treat or prevent bronchospasm in patients with asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, other lung diseases, wheezing induced by exercise. The 25th most prescribed drug to Medicare beneficiaries, Proair HFA’s side effects include fast, irregular heartbeat; shakiness/trembling; body aches or pain; congestion; fever; runny nose, and more.

Pravastatin Sodium

  • Brand Name: Pravachol
  • # of Prescriptions in 2013: 2.8 Million
  • Treats: Dyslipidemias

Pravastatin is meant to lower cholesterol and triglycerides, or fat in the blood. The drug can be used to prevent or slow down hardening of the arteries, heart problems, and blood vessel problems.

Levofloxacin

  • Brand Names: Iquix, Quixin
  • # of Prescriptions in 2013: 2.9 Million
  • Treats: Pink Eye

This prescription antibiotic treats bacterial infections of the eye, namely Pinkeye. According to data from Medicare, the average cost of the prescription is approximately $14.37.

Metoprolol Succinate

  • Brand Names: Lopressor, Toprol XL
  • # of Prescriptions in 2013: 3 Million
  • Treats: High Blood Pressure

Metoprolol is a beta-blocker that treats high blood pressure, lowering a patient’s risk for strokes and heart attacks. The drug affects the response of certain nerve impulses in parts of the body, such as the heart. When this happens, the heart slows and blood pressure decreases.

Sulfamethoxazole/Trimethoprim

  • Brand Names: Bactrim, Bactrim DS, Septra, Septra DS, SMZ-TMP Pediatric, Sulfatrim, Sulfatrim Pediatric
  • # of Prescriptions in 2013: 3 Million
  • Treats: Bronchitis and Pneumonia

This prescription treats multiple infections: urinary tract infections, middle ear infections, bronchitis, traveler’s diarrhea, and even dysentery. It can also be used to prevent or treat very serious types of pneumonia, which typically occurs in patients with poorly functioning immune systems, such as cancer patients, patients with AIDS, or transplant patients.

Losartan Potassium

  • Brand Name: Cozaar
  • # of Prescriptions in 2013: 3 Million
  • Treats: High Blood Pressure

Losartan Potassium is another prescription drug that treats high blood pressure, or hypertension. The drug is an angiotensin II receptor blocker (ARB), which works by blocking a substance in the body that causes the blood vessels to tighten. The drug ultimately aims to lower blood pressure, increasing blood and oxygen to the heart and decreasing the risk of stroke in patients.

Cephalexin

  • Brand Names: Bio-Cef, Keflex, Panixine DisperDose
  • # of Prescriptions in 2013: 3.3 Million
  • Treats: Bacterial Infections

Cephalexin treats bacterial infections in many parts of the body, by killing bacteria or preventing their growth. The average cost of a prescription is approximately $7.73 based on data provided by Medicare.

Fluticasone Propionate

  • Brand Names: Flonase, Veramyst
  • # of Prescriptions in 2013: 3.5 Million
  • Treats: Non-Allergenic Rhinitis

This prescription nasal spray treats sneezing, itchy or runny nose, and other symptoms caused by hay fever. Fluticasone is a steroid medicine, and the most common side effect is a bloody nose.

Gabapentin

  • Brand Names: FusePaq Fanatrex, Gabarone, Gralise, Neurontin
  • # of Prescriptions in 2013: 3.7 Million
  • Treats: Postherpetic Neuralgia, Epileptic Seizure

Gabapentin, the 17th most prescribed drug in the U.S., is used to help control partial seizures, or convulsions, as part of the treatment of epilepsy. The drug is also used for pain management in adults who have had shingles (a condition called postherpetic neuralgia).

Hydrochlorothiazide

  • Brand Names: Aquazide H, Hydrocot, Microzide, Zide
  • # of Prescriptions in 2013: 3.7 Million
  • Treats: High Blood Pressure

Hydrochlorothiazide (pronounced “hye-droe-klor-oh-THYE-a-zide,” if you were curious,) is the third blood pressure medication on this list. However, this drug is also used to treat fluid retention that is caused by congestive heart failure, kidney disease, severe liver disease, or steroid and hormone treatments.

Tramadol

  • Brand Names: ConZip, FusePaq Synapryn, Rybix ODT, Ryzolt, Ultram, Ultram ER
  • # of Prescriptions in 2013: 3.8 Million
  • Treats: General or Chronic Pain

Tramadol is a pain medication that is often prescribed to individuals post-surgery. The extended-release tablets can also be used for chronic ongoing pain. Belonging to a group of strong medicines called opioid analgesics, the prescription can be quite habit-forming, causing mental or physical dependence.

Metoprolol Tartrate

  • Brand Names: Lopressor
  • # of Prescriptions in 2013: 3.9 Million
  • Treats: High Blood Pressure

The fourth blood pressure medicine on the list, this prescription is another beta-blocker that slows the heartbeat and increases the amount of blood and oxygen that can reach the heart. Possible side effects of this drug include blurred vision, chest pain or discomfort, confusion, dizziness, shortness of breath, and more.

Amoxicillin

  • Brand Names: Amoxicot, Amoxil, DisperMox, Moxatag, Moxilin, Trimox
  • # of Prescriptions in 2013: 4 Million
  • Treats: Bacterial Infections

Like Cephalexin, this prescription treats multiple bacterial infections. It is also used in conjunction with other medications to treat H. pylori infection and duodenal ulcers. Amoxicillin is a member of the penicillin family, and does not work for colds, flu, or viruses.

Metformin HCL

  • Brand Names: Fortamet, Glucophage, Glucophage XR, Glumetza, Riomet
  • # of Prescriptions in 2013: 4.1 Million
  • Treats: Diabetes Mellitus

Metformin is used to treat high blood sugar levels that are caused by type 2 diabetes. The prescription helps to restore the way a patient uses food to make energy. To work properly, the drug must be balanced against the amount of food a person eats, and the amount of exercise they get.

Prednisone

  • Brand Names: Deltasone, Prednicot, predniSONE Intensol, Rayos, Sterapred,Sterapred DS
  • # of Prescriptions in 2013: 4.1 Million
  • Treats: Corticosteroid-Responsive Disorders

Prednisone treats inflammation, and is used for a number of different conditions, including allergies, adrenal problems, arthritis, blood or bone marrow problems, asthma, swelling, endocrine problems, eye problems, lupus, and more. It is a cortisone-like medicine that will relieve swelling, redness, itching, and allergic reactions.

Ciprofloxacin HCL

  • Brand Name: Cipro
  • # of Prescriptions in 2013: 4.7 Million
  • Treats: Sinusitis and Other Bacterial Infections

Ciprofloxacin HCL is a part of the quinolone antibiotic family, and is used to treat different parts of the body. The drug can also be used to treat anthrax infections after exposure.

Furosemide

  • Brand Names: Furocot, Lasix
  • # of Prescriptions in 2013: 5 Million
  • Treats: High Blood Pressure

The fourth blood pressure medicine on this list, Furosemide is also the first to break the five million mark for number of prescriptions in the U.S. The drug belongs to a group of medications called loop diuretics, or water pills, and is prescribed to help with fluid retention and swelling, as well as to treat high blood pressure.

Azithromycin

  • Brand Names: Zithromax, Zithromax Tri-Pak, Zithromax Z-Pak, Zmax
  • # of Prescriptions in 2013: 5.2 Million
  • Treats: Pneumonia and Sinusitis

Azithromycin belongs to a class of drugs called macrolide antibiotics, and is used to kill bacterial infections. However, the drug does not work for colds, flus, or other viruses.

Atorvastatin Calcium

  • Brand Name: Lipitor
  • # of Prescriptions in 2013: 5.3 Million
  • Treats: Dyslipidemias

Atorvastatin Calcium is used in conjunction with a healthy diet to lower cholesterol levels and triglyceride (fat) levels in the blood. This medication can help to lower risk of medical problems such as chest pain, heart attack, or stroke.

Levothyroxine Sodium

  • Brand Names: Levothroid, Levoxyl, Synthroid, Tirosint, Unithroid
  • # of Prescriptions in 2013: 5.7 Million
  • Treats: Hypothyroidism

Levothyroxine Sodium is used to treat hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormones. This medication is also used to help decrease the size of the thyroid in cases of enlargement due to thyroid cancer.

Amlodipine Besylate

  • Brand Name: Norvasc
  • # of Prescriptions in 2013: 6.2 Million
  • Treats: High Blood Pressure

Amlodipine Besylate is the first drug on the list to break the six million prescription mark, and also the fifth blood pressure medication we’ve come across. The prescription can be used to treat angina (chest pain) and high blood pressure (hypertension), by working as a calcium channel blocker. The drug causes blood vessels to relax by affecting the movement of calcium into the blood cells and heart vessels.

Omeprazole

  • Brand Names: Zegerid, Prilosec
  • # of Prescriptions in 2013: 6.3 Million
  • Treats: Conditions Caused by Excess Stomach Acid

Omeprazole is used to treat a variety of conditions caused by excess stomach acid: gastric and duodenal ulcers, erosive esophagitis, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Sometimes the medication is used in conjunction with an antibiotic to treat ulcers associated with H. pylori bacterial infections.

Lisinopril

  • Brand Names: Prinivil, Zestril
  • # of Prescriptions in 2013: 7 Million
  • Treats: High Blood Pressure

Lisinopril is yet another high blood pressure medication, and the third-most prescribed drug to American Medicare beneficiaries. The drug blocks a substance in the body that causes blood vessels to tighten, allowing them to relax instead, reducing the risk of stroke and heart attack.

Simvastatin

  • Brand Name: Zocor
  • # of Prescriptions in 2013: 8 Million
  • Treats: Dyslipidemias

Simvastatin is the third drug on the list to treat Dyslipidemias (high cholesterol and fat in the blood). This prescription may help Medicare patients prevent heart attack and stroke due to clogged blood vessels.

Hydrocodone-Acetaminophen

  • Brand Names: Anexsia, Ceta Plus, Co-Gesic, Dolorex Forte, Hycet, Lorcet, Lortab, Maxidone, Norco, Stagesic, Vicodin HP, Zydone
  • # of Prescriptions in 2013: 8,086,006
  • Treats: General Pain

Hydrocodone and acetaminophen combine to relieve pain and reduce fever in patients. The number one prescribed drug among Medicare beneficiaries in 2013, this combination of two pain-killers (one narcotic and one non-narcotic) can cause mental and physical dependence if used for a long time.


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