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Metabolic and Four Other Drug Categories Dominate Spending on Prescription Medicines

AHRQ News and Numbers, February 24, 2009

AHRQ News and Numbers provides statistical highlights on the use and cost of health services and health insurance in the United States.

Medications that affect a person's metabolism by helping to lower cholesterol, control diabetes, and control weight accounted for $38 billion of the $208.1 billion that American adults spent on medications in 2006, according to the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

The estimate comes from an AHRQ analysis that found five therapeutic categories of prescribed drugs accounted for more than 60 percent of consumer spending on drugs in 2006. Among the conclusions:

  • Spending was highest for metabolic drugs, which included cholesterol-lowering medications, diabetes drugs, and weight control drugs.
  • Cardiovascular drugs, that include blood pressure drugs, as well as diuretics and drugs to control heart rhythm problems, accounted for $33 billion.
  • Central nervous system drugs, which include analgesics for pain, accounted for $28 billion.
  • Psychotherapeutic drugs, which include antidepressants, accounted for $17.5 billion.
  • Hormones that are used for osteoporosis, menopausal symptoms, cancer treatment, and other medical problems accounted for $14 billion.

AHRQ, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), works to enhance the quality, safety, efficiency, and effectiveness of health care in the United States. The data in this AHRQ News and Numbers summary are taken from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS), a detailed source of information on the health services used by Americans, the frequency with which they are used, the cost of those services, and how they are paid.

For more information, go to The Top Five Therapeutic Classes of Outpatient Prescription Drugs Ranked by Total Expense for Adults Age 18 and Older in the U.S. Civilian Noninstitutionalized Population, 2006.

For other information, or to speak with an AHRQ data expert, please contact Bob Isquith at or call (301) 427-1539.

Current as of February 2009
Internet Citation: Metabolic and Four Other Drug Categories Dominate Spending on Prescription Medicines: AHRQ News and Numbers, February 24, 2009. February 2009. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.


The information on this page is archived and provided for reference purposes only.


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