Most Commonly Prescribed Medications by Drug Class

Prescriptions Being Filled at an All-Time High

Woman getting her blood pressure taken
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Approximately 5.8 billion prescription medications are filled in the United States—up from close to four billion in 2010. Major studies that analyzed the financial impacts of increased therapeutic drug use on treatment outcomes and spending have come to different conclusions. However, it is known that many diseases can be prevented, treated effectively, or cured through prescription medications if taken as directed.

According to the IQVIA Institute's 2019 U.S. Medicines Report, patient use of prescription medications continued to rise throughout 2018 with a significant increase of 90-day prescriptions for the treatment of chronic conditions.

Antihypertensives and pain medications were among the most prescribed medications of 2018.

Age Is a Factor

The increase in average life spans has caused an increase in the age of populations around the globe. This aging is associated as a driver of growth for medications. Older populations tend to have higher blood pressure, more chronic pain, and changes in mental health.

Nine-out-of-10 senior citizens in the United States and 58% of all non-seniors regularly rely on prescribed drugs, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Generics Surpass Branded Drug Scripts

Generic drugs represented 90% of all filled prescriptions, according to the IQVIA. The number of generic prescriptions dispensed remained generally the same from 2018.

In addition, in 2018, a new law was passed that allows pharmacies to inform customers about less costly equivalent medications, which could also increase generic prescription drug use.

The Most Prescribed Medications by Class

All classes of drugs have seen an increase in prescriptions filled over the last five years except diuretics, penicillins, and hormonal contraceptives. IQVIA's analysis included all prescription medications dispensed through retail pharmacies, food store pharmacies, mail orders, and long-term care facilities.


Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, beta-blockers, diuretics, and angiotensin-receptor blockers are used in the treatment of high blood pressure, scleroderma, migraines, and other conditions. In 2018, pharmacies dispensed more than 680 million prescriptions for hypertension.

ACE inhibitors are the most prescribed for hypertension. This category includes Lotensin (benazepril), Capoten (captopril), Vasotec (enalapril), Fosinopril, Prinivil, Zestril (Lisinopril), Univasc (Moexipril), Aceon (perindopril), Accupril (quinapril), Altace (ramipril) and Mavik (trandolapril).

Pain Medications

There were a total of 424 million prescriptions for pain in 2018. Of note, opioid prescriptions have continued to fall (-17%), and are at a level not seen in 15 years. While this is good news, the national average for opioids per capita is still over 50%.

Pain medicines prescribed are Dilaudid, Vicodin, Gabapentin and many others. Recent laws and addiction awareness have increased control and cut down on the number of prescriptions.

Mental Health

Mental health treatments are one of the fastest-growing classes of prescribed drugs. In 2018, more than 381 million prescriptions were filled for antidepressants, according to the IQVIA report.

One of the main factors driving the increase in scripts for antidepressants is that a growing number of primary care providers and others practicing outside the field of psychiatry are writing prescriptions for patients who have not received a clinical psychiatric evaluation or diagnosis.

Lipid Regulators

Lipid regulators, mainly statin drugs, are used to prevent dyslipidemia (high blood cholesterol) and other cardiovascular problems and have been prescribed for the prevention and treatment of many other illnesses including osteoporosis and post-menopausal complications. More than 249 million prescriptions for statins and other lipid-lowering drugs were filled in 2018.

Pfizer's Lipitor (atorvastatin calcium) was the highest-selling branded statin, followed by Crestor (rosuvastatin calcium) by AstraZeneca; Other branded statins included Mevacor (lovastatin), Pravachol (pravastatin sodium), Zocor (simvastatin), Lescol (fluvastatin sodium), Vytorin (Ezetimibe/Simvastatin), and Pitavastatin.

Awareness campaigns directed at physicians and directly to consumers have contributed to the growth in this class of drugs.

Other top-ranking classes of drugs by millions of prescriptions filled are:

  • Nervous System Disorders—371
  • Antibacterials—258
  • Antidiabetes—214
  • Respiratory Agents—170
  • Anti-Ulcerants—163
  • Thyroid therapies—130
  • Dermatologics—101
  • ADHD—90