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The Top 10 Drugs Prescribed in the U.S.

The likelihood of taking a prescription drug at some point in your life is incredibly high. Perhaps you need antibiotics to help get rid of that pesky cold or ear infection. Maybe a doctor prescribed you 800 mg ibuprofen because of unyielding toothache pain. Or perhaps you are on a daily regime to assist in regulating your thyroid or cholesterol. 

A study published in JAMA found that more Americans are taking prescription medications than ever before, and taking five or more prescription drugs is called polypharmacy, a trend that's on the rise. In fact, from 1999 to 2012, polypharmacy increased from 8.2% to 15% of all American adults. In kind, during the COVID-19 pandemic alone, there has been a definite rise in the use of both illegal drugs, such as heroin, and prescription pain medications, including synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

From ACE inhibitors to antidepressants, the most commonly used prescription drugs are often necessary to our physical and mental health. They help to combat and regulate ailments such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and anxiety; but if used irresponsibly, some of these drugs can lead to an addictive spiral.

To help you learn more about the top drugs being prescribed today, we’ve created a list of the 10 most prevalent with basic information about each.

1. Vicodin (Hydrocodone/Acetaminophen) 

Annual Prescriptions: 131.2 million 

Used to relieve moderate to severe pain, Vicodin combines an opioid pain reliever (hydrocodone) and a non-opioid pain reliever (acetaminophen). Hydrocodone changes how your body feels and responds to more severe pain, while acetaminophen helps reduce minor pain and fever.

The most common side effects are nausea, dizziness, lightheadedness, and vomiting. Vicodin can also impair thinking, reduce physical abilities, and reduce breathing. Vicodin and other prescription opioids, like OxyContin and Percocet, are at high risk for addiction and dependence and should be monitored.

2. Lisinopril (Generic for Prinivil or Zestril) 

Annual Prescriptions: 105 million

Lisinopril is an angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor used to treat congestive heart failure and high blood pressure. ACE inhibitors are also used to prevent kidney failure caused by high blood pressure and diabetes.

Side effects include headaches, drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, and sexual dysfunction. Generally, ACE inhibitors may also cause a dry cough that persists until the medication is no longer being taken.

3. Lipitor (Atorvastatin)

Annual Prescriptions: 105 million

Lipitor is used for treating high cholesterol and prevents chest pain, stroke, and heart attacks in individuals with coronary artery disease. Lipitor is a statin (also known as HMG-CoA), a class of lipid-lowering medications for those at high risk of cardiovascular disease. Statins are proven to reduce illness and mortality and are the most common cholesterol-lowering drugs. Lipitor, and its generic counterpart, atorvastatin, are the most prescribed. 

Minor side effects include fatigue, headache, heartburn, constipation, diarrhea, and gas. Over time, the use of these drugs can cause muscle pain and muscle breakdown.

4. Levothyroxine (Generic for Synthroid, Levothroid, Levoxyl, Tirosint)

Annual Prescriptions: 102 million

Used for treating hypothyroidism, levothyroxine is a man-made version of thyroid hormone, which controls most of the metabolic processes in your body and affects many organs and biochemical systems. In a healthy body, these hormones are produced by the thyroid gland located in the front (anterior) part of the neck. But individuals with hypothyroidism lack crucial thyroid hormones, requiring the use of medications like levothyroxine.

Side effects can result from high thyroid hormone levels, causing chest pain, excessive sweating, nervousness, increased heart rate, headache, and weight loss.


5. Simvastatin (Generic for Zocor)

Annual Prescriptions: 94.1 million

The second statin on the list, simvastatin is the generic form of Zocor, one of the first drugs approved for treating high cholesterol. It helps reduce the risk of stroke, heart attack, and death from heart disease.

As with other statins, common side effects of simvastatin include nausea, vomiting, headache, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and muscle pain. Over time, using statins can also cause muscle breakdown.

6. Metformin (Generic for Glucophage)

Annual Prescriptions: 79 million

Metformin treats type 2 diabetes in adults and children by lowering blood sugar levels and improving how your body handles insulin. This drug is usually prescribed when diet and exercise have not been enough on their own to control blood sugar levels.

A study from Hong Kong shows metformin has also been successful in protecting individuals against pneumonia.

Common side effects are nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, gas, bloating, and diarrhea. The effects of prolonged use continue to be monitored and researched.

7. Amlodipine (Generic for Norvasc)

Annual Prescriptions: 73 million

Amlodipine is a calcium channel blocker (CCB) used to treat high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and chest pain. Recent studies have also suggested that CCBs can decrease mortality rates in those that have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

The most common side effects are headaches and the swelling of the lower extremities. Amlodipine can also cause fatigue, nausea, palpitations, and dizziness.

8. Azithromycin (Generic for Zithromax, Z-PAK)

Annual Prescriptions: 52.6 million

Most commonly referred to as a Z-PAK, this antibiotic is used to treat ear, throat, and sinus infections. It is also prescribed for pneumonia, bronchitis, and some sexually transmitted diseases.

Common side effects include nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, and loose stool. Rare side effects include allergic reactions, abnormal heartbeats, liver problems, and severe dizziness.

9. Amoxicillin

Annual Prescriptions: 52.3 million

Amoxicillin is a penicillin-type antibiotic that stops the growth of bacteria. As such, it is commonly used to treat bacterial infections such as throat, tonsil, ears, urinary tract, and skin infections. This medication does not work for viral infections such as cold or flu.

The side effects are heartburn, nausea, vomiting, itching, confusion, rash, diarrhea, and allergic reactions.

10. Hydrochlorothiazide

Annual Prescriptions: 47.8 million

A diuretic that can be used alone or combined with other drugs to treat high blood pressure, Hydrochlorothiazide can also treat edema. Edema is fluid retention held in the body tissues. If this excess fluid is caused by heart, kidney, or liver disease, Hydrochlorothiazide can help.

Side effects can include low blood pressure, weakness, light sensitivity, impotence, nausea, and electrolyte disturbances.

Countrywide Testing

These prescriptions are only the top ten of the thousands of drugs regularly given out to millions of patients. While some carry only minor side effects or risky interactions, others — especially opiates such as Vicodin — can open a dangerous gateway to inappropriate drug use or outright drug abuse.

At Countrywide Testing, we provide a variety of health-related diagnostic test devices, including drug testing. If you are concerned that a loved one may be misusing prescription drugs, our at-home drug testing options can help you get answers and begin their road to recovery.

Our other laboratory services include testing for infectious diseases, fertility, and certain hormones. Our laboratory is one of only 27 SAMHSA-certified labs, and we are also CLIA, CAP, and ISO certified, so you can trust in the results.

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