(Photo by Flickr user Moyan Brenn via Creative Commons license)

(Photo by Flickr user Moyan Brenn via Creative Commons license)

Americans spend much more on prescription drugs than anyone else in the world, according to a recent study, which also noted a sharp increase in the use of antidepressants.

The number of people over 40 being treated for depression has almost doubled in the last decade, increasing from 7 to 13 percent.

Overall, nearly 3-in-5 U.S. adults — ages 20 and older — took prescription medication in 2012, up 50 percent from just a decade ago.

Harvard researchers found that 59 percent of U.S. adults used at least one prescription drug over the past 30 days.

Lead author Elizabeth Kantor suggests the rise in prescription drug use may also have to do with the rise in obesity; many of the most-prescribed drugs treat conditions related to obesity, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

prescription drugs

Researchers from Princeton University recently found that working-class middle-aged white people are dying faster than other Americans, and say drug and alcohol overdoses, as well as suicide, are behind the rise in midlife mortality.

“I wonder if those two findings are linked, that they’re not getting the proper help that they deserve,” said Carly Steele Johnson, speaking on behalf of MentalHelp.Net.

MentalHelp.Net’s new report suggests a large number of Americans suffer from both addiction and mental illness and that most of these people are not getting the help they need.


For example, a person suffering from a mental disorder and addiction usually gets help for one or the other, but not both conditions. MentalHelp.Net found that only 37 percent of people with co-occurring conditions are treated for both.

“If 67 percent of people of aren’t getting the help they need, that’s not good,” said Steele Johnson. “This can lead to more drug addiction, more mental health disorders and those mental health disorders can lead to self-harm [and] suicide.”

“Mental illness and drug abuse are linked either by correlation or causation,” the report authors wrote, “the individual could be self-medicating with drugs to alleviate symptoms of a mental disorder, or the substance use disorder could exacerbate an existing condition or elicit an entirely new mental disorder.”

Kantor, the lead author of the Harvard study, says it’s difficult to zero in on exactly what’s driving Americans’ increased use of prescription drugs.

“There’s policy changes and new recommendations coming out and drugs entering the market and exiting the market,” Kantor told NPR. “And there’s so many things happening at once that I think it’s really hard to pinpoint exactly what’s driving each trend.”