7 out of every 10 Americans are on prescription drugs, and more than half of the country are on at least two, according to an analysis conducted by Mayo Clinic and Olmsted Medical Center researchers.

The most commonly prescribed drugs were antibiotics, antidepressants and opioids.

Study author Jennifer St. Sauver, Ph.D., a member of the Mayo Clinic Population Health Program in the Mayo Clinic Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery, said that the data gathered from the Rochester Epidemiology Project in Olmsted County, Minn. accurately represent prescribing practices trends across the country.

Dr. St. Sauver said that the finding was a bit shocking, highlighting the mental health issue in the country.

“Often when people talk about health conditions they’re talking about chronic conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. However, the second most common prescription was for antidepressants – that suggests mental health is a huge issue and is something we should focus on. And the third most common drugs were opioids, which is a bit concerning considering their addicting nature.”

Of Americans taking prescribed drugs:

  • 17 percent of the participants prescribed were on antibiotics
  • 13 percent were on antidepressants
  • 13 percent were on opioids
  • 11 percent took cholesterol drugs to lower lipids
  • 11 percent received some form of vaccination

The drugs were prescribed to people of all ages, apart from those who were on high blood pressure drugs – which were usually taken by patients over 30 years of age.

The majority of the drugs prescribed were given to women or older adults. Medications most commonly prescribed to young people were antibiotics and anti-asthmatics. Among middle-aged adults antidepressants and opioids were the most commonly prescribed. In fact, nearly one quarter of women between 50 and 64 take antidepressants.

Dr. St. Sauver added: “As you get older you tend to get more prescriptions, and women tend to get more prescriptions than men.”

Over the past decade, the number of people on prescription drugs has increased significantly. In 2009, the amount of spending on prescription drugs reached $250 billion, making up 12 percent of total personal health care expenditure.

Researchers predict that people will continue spending more and more on prescription medications.

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), that the number of people dying from prescription drug overdoses has been progressively rising.

38,329 deaths in the USA were caused by drug overdoses. Deaths caused by prescription drugs included:

In November, 2011, the CDC reported that more Americans died form prescription painkiller overdoses than all deaths from cocaine and heroin combined.

Written by Joseph Nordqvist