While the SingleCare card delivers savings on thousands of prescription medications, there were 15 hard-working drugs that continually topped our most-filled list throughout 2019. And though there was some seasonality evident in the data (prescriptions for the bronchodilator albuterol peaked during the cold-prone winter months, for instance), by and large, usage trends remained consistent from month-to-month.
Here are the most prescribed drugs of 2019:
This thyroid replacement hormone was the No. 1 filled prescription among SingleCare card users for every month of 2019. It’s popularity is no surprise to Bethesda, Maryland-based primary care physician and internist Matthew Mintz, MD, who says having a low thyroid level (called hypothyroidism) isn’t uncommon.
“Close to 4% of the U.S. population has hypothyroidism,” he explains. There are various causes for hypothyroidism, including autoimmune disease Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, radiation therapy, and certain kinds of medication. Left untreated, hypothyroidism can lead to conditions such as obesity, infertility, joint pain, and heart disease.
Albuterol is a bronchodilator—often in inhaler form—that quickly helps open up airways for those suffering from asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). “Both of these diseases are very common, with over 25 million people in the U.S. (including 7 million children) being diagnosed with asthma,” says Dr. Mintz. “About 16 million people in the U.S. have COPD (which includes emphysema), usually in older adults, and usually secondary to smoking.”
Albuterol is a quick-relief medication that is generally used as a rescue inhaler when needed. Patients who take albuterol usually also take daily preventive medication. Albuterol was the second-most filled prescription for the first five months of 2019—and there’s a reason why drug use is so high at the beginning of the year, according to Dr. Mintz. “Patients with respiratory diseases get worse in the winter when they tend to have more colds,” he says.
This blood pressure medicine also ranked near the top of SingleCare’s list—alternating between the third and fourth positions for the first five months of the year, before reaching the second position in June and holding steady until November. “[High] blood pressure is very common in the U.S.,” says Dr. Mintz. To wit, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 75 million American adults (a third of adults) have high blood pressure.
Lisinopril is in a class of drugs known as ACE inhibitors, which work to relax the veins and arteries and help lower blood pressure. “ACE inhibitors tend to be a favorite because they seem to have the fewest side effects of all the other classes of medicines,” says Dr. Mintz. “Another very popular category that is similar to ACE inhibitors are angiotensin receptor blockers or ARBs. They have even fewer side effects. However, recently there have been some recalls of ARBs due to manufacturing issues, so some patients are switching from ARBs to ACE inhibitors, like lisinopril.”
Lisinopril may also be prescribed to patients who have heart failure or who have recently experienced a heart attack.
This jack-of-all-trades antibiotic vacillated in popularity from month to month, ranking as high as second and as low as fifth. “Amoxicillin is in the penicillin family of antibiotics, and is used to treat a variety of common bacterial infections,” says Dr. Jennifer Haythe, MD, a leading cardiologist in New York and the co-director of the Women’s Center for Cardiovascular Health at Columbia University. These include strep throat, sinusitis, bronchitis, pneumonia, ear infections, and some urine and skin infections.
Amoxicillin (or any antibiotic!) does not work for viral infections, such as the cold or flu, and should not be taken for those conditions, as that could increase antibiotic resistance.
The second blood pressure medicine to top the list, amlodipine is what’s known as a calcium channel blocker, says Dr. Haythe, which works by altering the movement of calcium into the cells of blood vessels and the heart, thereby relaxing the vessels and lowering blood pressure. “[It] is commonly prescribed for high blood pressure, as it is simple once-daily dosing, has few side effects, and is well tolerated,” says Dr. Haythe, explaining its popularity.
Hovering near the middle of the Top 10 list was ibuprofen, often known by its brand names such as Advil and Motrin. “It is an NSAID, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, and is used to treat aches and pains, fever, toothaches, and headaches,” says Dr. Haythe.
Ibuprofen was the first non-aspirin NSAID to be approved for over-the-counter use, and is well-tolerated. The only real difference between prescription ibuprofen and OTC ibuprofen is the dosage—the over-the-counter drug only goes as high as 200 mg per tablet, while prescription doses are available up to 800 mg per tablet.
The other medicines rounding out SingleCare’s top drugs by month in 2019 list include benzonatate (a cough medicine), azithromycin (generic Z-Pak, an antibiotic), prednisone (a corticosteroid), cholecalciferol (Vitamin D3), oseltamivir phosphate (generic Tamiflu, an antiviral medicine), ergocalciferol (Vitamin D2), amphetamine-dextroamphetamine (an ADHD medicine), atorvastatin calcium (Lipitor, a statin), and cetirizine HCl (Zyrtec, an antihistamine).
Popular prescription drug information reflects the scripts most filled through SingleCare from Jan. 1, 2019 to Nov. 30, 2019, excluding opioids and weight-loss drugs.