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Growth in prescription drug use continues to slow

| Thursday, April 21, 2011

Spending on prescription drugs grew relatively slowly last year as fewer people started new prescriptions and more prescriptions were filled with cheaper generics, an industry study shows.

Americans and their insurers spent $307.4 billion on prescription drugs in 2010, up just 2.3 percent from the previous year. Growth had already slowed to 5.1 percent in 2009, from as much as 13 percent a year earlier in the decade.

The study by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics shows the volume of prescription medicines that Americans used also increased at historically low levels. That's bad news for brand-name pharmaceutical companies -- but may also be for doctors and patients.

The number of visits to doctors' offices declined 4.2 percent in 2010, to 1.54 billion, according to the study. That downward trend began in mid-2009, as the employment rate remained stubbornly high and more people lost health insurance.

Pharmacies filled 0.5 percent fewer prescriptions in 2010 than in 2009 for pills, capsules and nasal spray medications -- about 60 percent of total spending on medications. For medicines that are injected or infused, total volume rose even less, just 0.2 percent.

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