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TCU Kim PoseyAt Harris College, we recognize the importance of understanding prescription drug utilization trends. By examining the top medications consumed, we gain valuable insights into prevalent health conditions and the evolving needs of our communities. This knowledge informs our approach to health care education and practice, ensuring that our students are equipped to address complex health challenges effectively.

We spoke with Associate Professor of Professional Practice in nursing and adult-gerontology nurse practitioner Kimberly Posey, Ph.D., DNP, AGPCNP-BC, GS-C, to learn more on the subject.

Why is prescription drug spending increasing?

Posey: Several factors drive the increase in prescription drug spending:

  1. The demographic shift with more older adults consuming pharmaceuticals due to chronic conditions.
  2. The reactive approach of the U.S. health care system, which does not prioritize preventive care.
  3. The continuous FDA approval of new prescription drugs and expanded indications for existing medications, increasing their utilization and coverage.

What are the primary factors contributing to the rise in prescription drug spending in recent years?

Posey: In 2023, prescription drug spending in the U.S. reached $722.5 billion, marking an approximately 14% increase—the largest seen in the last 20 years. The key factors contributing to this growth include increased utilization of prescription drugs, the introduction of new products including biosimilars and fluctuations in drug prices.

What does the increase in prescription drug spending indicate about the general health of the population?

Posey: The increase in prescription drug spending suggests that the general health of the population is declining, with more individuals requiring medications to manage chronic conditions. This trend underscores the need for a stronger focus on preventive care and early intervention strategies to improve overall public health and reduce the reliance on medications.

How can a shift in health care priorities reduce the need for prescription medications?

Posey: To reduce the prevalence and need for prescription drugs, a paradigm shift in U.S. health care is essential. Currently, the U.S. health care system does not prioritize disease prevention and preventative care. We should think more upstream (preventing the patient from falling in the river versus trying to pull them out). By prioritizing early interventions against chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases and strokes—all closely linked to obesity—we can make a significant impact. Addressing obesity early can drastically reduce the incidence of these major life-threatening diseases.

How do lifestyle changes impact prescription drug dependency?

Posey: Lifestyle changes are critical in reducing dependency on prescription drugs. A balanced diet, regular physical activity and other healthy lifestyle choices can prevent or manage chronic diseases, reducing the need for medications. However, the current health care system does not sufficiently support these preventive measures. There needs to be a broader focus on wellness programs and community health initiatives to encourage healthier living and decrease reliance on pharmaceuticals.

Why are anti-obesity drugs currently prioritized?

Posey: Anti-obesity drugs are prioritized due to the high prevalence of obesity, affecting about 40% of U.S. adults, and its association with serious health issues like heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers. The introduction of effective treatments like glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1s), a class of type 2 diabetes drug that improves blood sugar control and may also lead to weight loss, has been a significant advancement in obesity management.

What do the top medications, aside from anti-obesity drugs, indicate about other health conditions in the U.S. and their treatment?

Posey: The top medications reveal significant insights about prevalent health conditions in the U.S., particularly chronic diseases linked to an aging population. For example, older adults, especially as the baby boomer generation ages, are the highest consumers of prescription drugs. By 2060, Americans aged 65 and over will double, influencing health care demand. A shift towards preventive care could reduce the need for such medications, addressing chronic diseases early on to prevent severe health issues later.

Harris Talks is a thought leadership series where our faculty experts tackle pressing questions on current health care topics. This series enriches our health care education and practice, equipping our students with the knowledge to effectively address complex health challenges.