Washington — Americans are cramming their medicine chests ever fuller in the struggle to lower cholesterol, treat depression, reduce inflammation and ease other illnesses.
More than 40 percent of the population is taking at least one prescription drug and one person in every six takes three or more, the government said Thursday. Both figures are up about 5 percentage points in recent years.
"The fact is that we have more drugs available that actually do help people," said Dr. Ellsworth C. Seeley, who teaches medicine at the University of Kentucky. He cited drugs to deal with high blood pressure, cholesterol and help diabetics, among others.
Dennis Shea, a professor at Pennsylvania State University's college of health and human development, found mixed news in the report.
"Certainly, in the 1990s there were lots of advances in being better able to target drugs to conditions," he said. "But there is that danger that people are overmedicating ... taking so many medications that they can interact, make one ineffective or cause harm."
And, he added, "Americans seem to look for that magic pill, don't they?" In many cases the patients pressure physicians: "'Give me the pill, I don't want to change my diet, I don't want to exercise.' It is an easy way out but may not be as effective," he said. The benefits of improved diet and exercise can extend beyond any single ailment, he added.
"And there are drugs that are not lifesaving drugs in that sense -- such as drugs for migraine headaches -- that have certainly improved the quality of life for migraine sufferers," Seeley added.