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What Are America's Most Popular Drugs?

Most Popular DrugsLast year 10 of the most popular medicines were generic – grim news for pharmaceutical companies that are always looking out for a blockbuster drug through patented brands that aren't eligible yet for generic compositions.

The top 10 include Vicodin, Zocor, Lisinopril, Synthroid, Norvasc, Prilosec, Zithromax, Glucophage, and hydrochlorothiazide, a high blood pressure medicine.

According to Forbes, there are only three branded medicines left on the top 25 list of best-sellers – Lipitor, Plavix, and Singulair.

Even worse news for the drug companies was that overall volume of prescriptions sold last year increased at barely more than 1 percent.

With so many drugs going off-patent, the new focus is on cancer drugs, which seem to get more expensive every time a new one is approved, Forbes said.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Prescription drug spending rose to $307.4 billion in 2010, which translates to nearly $900 spent for each and every American, IMS Health reported in their Use of Medicines in the United States: Review of 2010 report. This is a 2.3 percent rise over 2009 spending levels -- but it actually represents a slowing in drug spending in the United States.

As IMS reported:

"The volume of prescription medicines consumed overall rose at historically low levels in 2010."

Perhaps most striking, the list of the top 25 drugs is overwhelmingly composed of generics, with only three brand-name drugs -- Lipitor for cholesterol, Plavix for heart disease, and Singulair for allergies -- making the list.

Which Drugs Make up the List?

The most-used drugs in America are, primarily, used to treat conditions that can be better treated without drugs.

The Most Popular Drugs in the United States Primary Use
1. Hydrocodone/acetaminophen (Vicodin) pain Pain
2. Simvastatin (Zocor) High cholesterol
3. Lisinopril High blood pressure
4. Levothyroxine sodium (Synthroid) Hypothyroid
5. Amlodipine besylate (Norvasc) High blood pressure
6. Omeprazole (Prilosec) Acid reflux
7. Azithromycin (Zithromax) Antibiotic
8. Amoxicillin Antibiotic
9. Metformin HCL (Glucophage) Diabetes
10. Hydrochlorothiazide High blood pressure
11. Alprazolam (Xanax) Anxiety
12. Lipitor (atorvastatin) High cholesterol
13. Furosemide High blood pressure
14. Metoprolol tartrate (Lopressor) High blood pressure
15. Zolpidem tartrate (Ambien) Insomnia
16. Atenolol High blood pressure
17. Sertraline HCL (Zoloft) Depression
18. Metoprolol succinate (Toprol) Blood pressure
19. Citalopram (Celexa) Depression
20. Warfarin sodium (Coumadin) Blood thinner
21. Oxycodone/acetaminophen Pain
22. Ibuprofen Pain
23. Plavix (clopidogrel) Heart disease
24. Gabapentin (Neurontin) Seizures
25. Singulair (montelukast) Allergies

Here is a breakdown of some of the most glaring examples from the list:

Statin Cholesterol Drugs

Simvastatin (Zocor) and Lipitor, used to treat high cholesterol, came in at number 2 and 12 on the list, respectively. This class of drugs, used to lower your cholesterol, have been linked to an array of devastating side effects, including muscle pain and weakness, muscle atrophy, rhabdomyolysis, increased plaque deposits, increased cancer risk, immune system suppression, decreased liver function, CoQ10 depletion, and death.

The fact that statin drugs cause side effects is well established -- there are now 900 studies proving their adverse effects. But very few people realize that not only is your total cholesterol level not a great indicator of your heart disease risk, but you could be being told you have high cholesterol when your levels are actually perfectly normal.

You can make sense of your cholesterol numbers by reading this article, and also get tips for keeping your levels in the healthy range here. To normalize your cholesterol level naturally, four primary strategies work well 99 percent of the time if properly implemented:

  1. Reduce fructose to less than 25 grams per day
  2. Regular exercise, especially Peak Fitness
  3. Eating a low-grain, low-sugar diet according to your nutritional type
  4. Taking a high-quality omega-3 supplement

High Blood Pressure Drugs

Coming in at numbers 3, 5, 10, 13, 14, 16, and 18 are a slew of drugs used to treat high blood pressure. While uncontrolled high blood pressure is a very serious health concern that can lead to heart disease and increases your risk of having a stroke, it's important to understand that natural approaches are very effective for this condition.

Following a healthy nutrition plan and limiting fructose along with exercising and implementing effective stress reduction techniques will normalize blood pressure in most people.

You'll also want to be sure your vitamin D levels are optimized, as vitamin D is a negative inhibitor of your body's renin-angiotensin system (RAS), which regulates blood pressure. If you're vitamin D deficient, it can cause inappropriate activation of your RAS, which may lead to hypertension.

Acid Reflux Drugs

The generic version of acid reflux drug Prilosec is the sixth most-prescribed drug in the United States. If you have heartburn, acid reflux, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), peptic ulcer disease or any acid-related condition, chances are very high that you've been offered a prescription for a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) like Prilosec.

But acid-reducing drugs are actually the opposite of what most people with acid reflux need, as heartburn and GERD are almost always caused by a LACK of stomach acid, rather than an overproduction thereof.

Further, when you take PPIs, which significantly reduce the amount of acid in your stomach, it impairs your ability to properly digest food and diminishes your primary defense mechanism for food-borne infections, thereby increasing your risk of food poisoning.

These drugs have also been linked to an increased risk of pneumonia, and result in an elevated risk of bone loss. Acid-reducing medications also actually induce acid-related symptoms like heartburn and acid regurgitation once treatment is withdrawn.

Because of this you have to wean yourself off them gradually or else you'll experience a severe rebound of your symptoms, As I explained in my Acid Reflux video, while you wean yourself off these drugs (if you're already on one), you'll want to start implementing a lifestyle modification program that can eliminate this condition once and for all.

The key to addressing the underlying cause of the problem is to limit fructose to below 25 grams per day as this will tend to create a micro environment that allows good bacteria to thrive. Remember, sugar and fructose tend to act as fertilizer for pathogenic bacteria, fungi and yeast, so stay away from it. Additionally it will be good to include some fermented foods and a high-quality probiotic.


The generic version of the antidepressant Zoloft is number 17 on the list. Unfortunately, research has confirmed that antidepressant drugs are no more effective than sugar pills. Some studies have even found that sugar pills may produce BETTER results than antidepressants! Personally, I believe the reason for this astounding finding is that both pills work via the placebo effect, but the sugar pills produce far fewer adverse effects.

Another recent study in the January 2010 issue of JAMA concluded that there is little evidence that SSRIs (a popular group of antidepressants that includes Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft and others) have any benefit to people with mild to moderate depression. However, they do increase your risk of serious side effects, including diabetes, impaired immune function and an increased risk of suicide and violent behavior.

Unfortunately, since most of the treatment focus of depression is on drugs, many safe and natural treatment options that DO work are being completely ignored -- but for more information on this important and complex topic please read the lead article in this issue.  

Diabetes Drugs

Metformin (Glucophage) used to treat diabetes is number 9 on the IMS list. This drug helps control blood sugar, but type 2 diabetes is a fully preventable condition that arises from faulty leptin signaling and insulin resistance. Therefore, diabetes can be controlled or reversed by recovering your insulin and leptin sensitivities.

The only known way to reestablish proper leptin and insulin signaling is through a proper diet and exercise! There is NO drug that can accomplish this – a fact that makes the current disease paradigm tragic, as diabetes continues to skyrocket, and the conventional treatments are needlessly killing diabetics prematurely.

Of course, just like high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol, radical fructose reduction and incorporation of Peak Fitness type exercises will be crucial to CURING your diabetes. 

Remember that nearly ALL type 2 diabetes is completely curable WITHOUT drugs.

Insomnia Drugs

The generic form of Ambien also made the top 25 list, coming in at number 15. Treating sleeping troubles with drugs is a risky bet, as they are notorious for being addictive, which means that once you want to stop taking them, you'll likely suffer withdrawal symptoms that could be worse than the initial insomnia. Some, including Ambien, may also become less effective when taken for longer than two weeks.

Ambien may also make you want to eat while you're asleep -- and the sleep eating can include bizarre foods such as buttered cigarettes, salt sandwiches, and raw bacon.

Sleeping pills do nothing to help the underlying reasons why you're having trouble sleeping in the first place. This is likely why studies have shown that cognitive behavioral therapy can treat insomnia better than drugs.

Instead of resorting to drugs, I suggest reading my Guide to a Good Night's Sleep for 33 simple tips on improving your sleep. Whether you are not able to fall asleep, wake up too often, or don't feel well rested when you wake up in the morning, these guidelines will provide you with various useful techniques to improve sleep problems.

Positive Trends in the Prescription Drug Market?

According to the IMS report, generics now account for 78 percent of all retail prescriptions dispensed. When a brand-name drug comes off patent, generic equivalents emerge that typically cost consumers far less than the brand-name version. Generic drugs are still overpriced in their own right, but less so than the brand-name drugs.

The switch to generics may account for some of the slowed growth in pharmaceutical sales seen in 2010, but there may also be a trend toward Americans looking for non-drug solutions to treat and prevent disease.

IMS actually found that the number of doctor office visits went down over 4 percent in 2010 and the number of patients starting new treatments for chronic conditions declined by 3.4 million. They noted that high unemployment rates and rising health care costs likely contributed to these reductions, but perhaps more people are also realizing that the road to optimal health is a healthy lifestyle, not drugs and frequent doctor visits.

However, please make this transition with wisdom or you can get yourself into serious trouble. Avoid stopping any medications you are currently taking until you are working with a knowledgeable natural health care practitioner who can help guide you, but remember that minimizing your use of drugs should be a goal if you want to achieve optimal health.

+ Sources and References