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Why does the U.S. use 75% of the world's prescription medications?

Updated on October 13, 2020

Blogging2, thank you for providing this interesting statistic... a statistic that wouldn't surprise me at all if it were true (and I would take your word, blogging)!

Most of what I'm about to say is opinion. A lot of it includes my thoughts on the state of the world and how the United States relates to the rest of the Earth's nations.

I think that the answer to this great question has a lot to do with the following information:

  • According to a report by the World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University, in 2000, the United States accounted for 4.7 percent of the world’s population, but 32.6 percent of the world’s wealth
  • Nearly 4 of every 10 people included in the wealthiest 1 percent of the world were American
  • The average American had a net worth of nearly $144,000, as opposed to $2,600 for the average Chinese person
  • According to data from the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances, the richest 1 percent of Americans held 32 percent of the nation’s wealth in 2001
  • A recent study by Emmanuel Saez of the University of California, Berkeley, and Thomas Piketty of the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, found that in 2004 the top 1 percent of Americans earned a higher share of the nation’s income than at any time since the 1920s. That share was still only 16 percent


  • Between 1970 and 1990, the typical American worked an additional 163 hours a year. That's like adding an extra month of work per year... with the same pay or less
  • Spending on luxury goods grew by 21 percent from 1995 to 1996 while general merchandise sales grew only 5 percent
  • Household debt as a percentage of personal income rose from 58 percent in 1973 to an estimated 85 percent in 1997
  • In 1997, 1.4 million Americans filed for personal bankruptcy. That's basically 7,000 bankruptcies an hour, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week

These facts sell out something pretty clear to me: More money means more money to spend, as seen in the last few facts. People have more money to spend on "luxury" goods, and getting that money means more hours at work. More hours at work mean more stress, which can cause more health issues, which call for more drugs. If people can afford stronger drugs than those that can be found on drugstore shelves, why not buy them? After all, they are readily available after a doctor's appointment.

Here are some more facts:

  • According to a study by Donald Vandegrift of The College of New Jersey and Anusua Datta of the School of Business Administration at Philadelphia University, during 1990–1998, expenditures on prescription drugs in the United States increased by 84 percent
  • Around 8 percent of the increase in spending on prescription drugs during that time can be explained by increasing rates of obesity. Also, rising incomes account for about 55 percent of the increase!

To be fair, people are also living longer now, as as people age, the use for prescription drugs grows more reasonable.

Perhaps it can also be said that people feel better about things when they can physically take something to cure it. For instance, if someone is feeling stressed out or if they have a headache, taking a pill for it might make them feel more resolved in their quest for a cure or solution, rather than just trying to psyche one's way out of it.

About 9 million Americans used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes in 1999, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Surely that adds to the numbers!

However, the amounts dispensed are decreasing... Prescription drugs are growing more expensive!

If you are an American, have you ever taken prescription drugs when you didn't need them?

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