Medication and supplement use in the US.





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Complementary and alternative medical therapies have become more common over the past two decades. This emerging field covers numerous treatments including acupuncture, herbal therapies, massage therapies, chiropractic, aromatherapy, and Traditional Chinese Medicine, to name only a few. From the initial stages of development has grown a huge population of individuals whose personal health goals include the concept of preventing disease and staying healthy. While the movement actually started almost a half century ago, the growth has been most significant with the aging of the baby boomer population. Studies show that literally millions of Americans are using complementary and alternative therapies.

One dilemma associated with the use of complementary and alternative medicine is the unintended interactions that could occur between herbs and drugs. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association stated that there is currently no information on the number of Americans who use prescription drugs and over the counter drugs concurrently. The investigators conducted a telephone survey in the 48 continental states as well as the District of Columbia from February 1998 to December 1999. The objective of this survey was to obtain recent population based information on the use of all medications in the United States. This included vitamins, herbs, minerals, supplements, prescriptions, and all over the counter drugs. All of the 2590 participants were over the age of 18. Over 80% of the participants had used medication in the previous week, and 50% of those were prescription drugs. Women over the age of 65 years used the largest amount of medications. The most common prescription drug associated with herbal/ supplement use was fluoxetine, which is commonly used for depression. Among the prescription drug users, 16% used herbs or supplements. Of the overall population-based study, 14% used herbs or supplements. The most common reason given for using supplements or vitamins was "health." The investigators found that most adults use at least 1 medication weekly as well as numerous other substances. This study indicates the need for procedures to be in place that could enhance the safety of medication use and alternative therapies.1


1. Kaufman DW, et al. Recent Patterns of Medication Use in the Ambulatory Adult Population of the United States. JAMA. Jan 2002;287:337-344.