Increasing use of prescription drugs in the United Kingdom

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Prescription drugs are a central component of healthcare worldwide. We investigated changes in drug-prescribing patterns over time in the general population.


Secular trends were analyzed using 1999–2012 prescription data from The Health Improvement Network. Prevalence of receipt of medication prescriptions was computed by age, sex, and therapeutic category for each calendar year. Spearman correlations were computed to assess change over time.


Between 1999 and 2012, the percentage of the population that received at least one medication prescription increased from 64.5% to 69.2% (rho = 0.96, p < 0.001). The percentage of patients receiving prescriptions for one to four unique agents declined from 45.6% to 42.1% (Spearman's rho = −0.98, p < 0.001). Meanwhile, the percentage receiving five to nine and 10 or more unique agents increased from 14.1% to 17.5% (rho = 0.996, p < 0.001) and 4.7% to 9.6% (rho = 1.000, p < 0.001) respectively. Largest increases were seen in use of drugs for gastrointestinal disease among women and cardiovascular disease among men. In 2012, the most commonly used agents were for infection or nervous system drugs, with 32.0% and 28.9% of patients receiving at least one prescription, respectively.


Nearly 70% of the United Kingdom population has received prescriptions for one or more medication with increasing proportions receiving prescriptions for five or more. The high rates of medication use increase the complexity and cost of healthcare. These data can be used for public health planning and to design pharmacoepidemiology and comparative effectiveness studies. Copyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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