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Use of Cholesterol-Fighting Drugs Soars in Just 5 Years But Increase Varies by Race and Ethnicity

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AHRQ News and Numbers

Release date: September 27, 2005

The proportion of the Medicare population using statins—prescription drugs that help reduce cholesterol and other fatty substances in the blood—more than doubled between 1997 and 2002, according to the Federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

  • In 1997, just under 12 percent of the 38 million Medicare beneficiaries—4.4 million persons—used at least one statin drug.
  • By 2002, roughly 27 percent of the 41 million Medicare beneficiaries, or 11 million individuals, used the drugs. The statistics do not include Medicare patients in nursing homes or other institutional settings.
  • AHRQ's Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) found that the increase in use of these drugs was not always uniform.
    • Hispanic Medicare beneficiaries had the least increase in use, from roughly 11 percent in 1997 to about 18 percent in 2002.
    • In contrast, use among white beneficiaries grew from about 12 percent to 28.5 percent during the same period.
    • Use among black Medicare beneficiaries tripled—going from roughly 7 percent to about 21 percent.
  • When MEPS survey experts examined the use of statins by the roughly 19 million Americans, age 18 and older, who received treatment for high cholesterol in 2002, they found that nearly 82 percent—approximately 16 million persons—were using at least one of these drugs.
  • Statin use by Hispanic adults treated for high cholesterol trailed that of white and black adults. About 70 percent of such Hispanic patients used at least one statin in 2002, compared with about 82 percent of whites and nearly 86 percent of black patients.

This AHRQ News and Numbers uses findings from two new MEPS Statistical Briefs—Trends in Statin Use in the Civilian Non-Institutionalized Medicare Population, 1997 and 2002: Statistical Brief No. 97, and Statin Use among Persons 18 and Older in the U.S. Civilian Non-Institutionalized Population Reported as Receiving Medical Care for the Treatment of High Cholesterol, 2002: Statistical Brief No 95.

These MEPS Statistical Briefs can be found on AHRQ's Web site at:, along with a third analysis—Statin Use in the Civilian Non-Institutionalized Medicare Population in 2002: Statistical Brief No. 96.


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