Do Certain Times of Year Increase the Number of Medications Prescribed?
The Kaiser Family Foundation says that retail pharmacies filled nearly four billion prescriptions in 2013. Drugs.com provides quarterly sales data on the Top 100 prescription drugs, and it offers some of the best data for analyzing what times of year pharmacies distributed the medication. Based on units sold in 2013, the data suggests that sales are highest in the first quarter (1Q)—i.e., January to March—of the year. The sales figures become more interesting, though, when looking at prescription drugs with addiction risk. In particular consider the Top 100 drugs hydrocodone (generic for Vicodin), OxyContin, methylphenidate (generic for Ritalin) and amphetamine-dextroamphetamine (generic for Adderall), whose data included the following:
- Hydrocodone sold 10 million (1Q), 9.6 million (2Q), 9 million (3Q) and 9.2 million (4Q).
- OxyContin sold 1.18 million (1Q), 1.1 million (2Q), 1.07 (3Q) and 1.05 million (4Q).
- Methylphenidate sold 826,000 (1Q), 774,000 (2Q), 718,000 (3Q) and 793,000 (4Q).
- Amphetamine-dextroamphetamine sold 764,000 (1Q), 745,000 (2Q), 702,000 (3Q) and 739,000 (4Q).
In every instance the highest number of units prescribed came during the first quarter, which is consistent with most other popular drugs. However, the raw numbers do not tell the entire story, which includes the following:
- Though sales decreased for all four drugs in the 2Q and 3Q, their positions in the Top 100 actually increased.
- The only exception, hydrocodone, ranked number two in units sold during 1Q and 2Q, yet moved to the top spot in the 3Q despite a 600,000-unit drop.
- The increased positions show that the overall sales drops in the 2Q and 3Q are less significant for these four drugs than the other Top 100 medications.
The average quarterly sales for addictive drugs like clonazepam were more consistent than most of the non-addictive drugs. Chronic pain certainly plays a role in the two opioid painkillers, hydrocodone and OxyContin, but addiction-related obsessive use likely played a role as well in the prescribing rate. Nevertheless, medications with higher risk of abuse did experience some sales fluctuations.
Reasons for Drug Prescribing Changes
While the prescribing numbers peak in the first quarter, the fourth quarter (October to December) tends to have higher sales than the spring and summer months. Various factors can play a role including the following:
- Holiday-related anxiety and stress during Thanksgiving, Christmas and Valentine’s might motivate increased use of benzodiazepine drugs like clonazepam (Klonopin).
- The increase for drugs like Ritalin and Adderall corresponds to the school year and might involve students looking to improve their academic or athletic performance.
- The ice and snow buildup in the colder months can lead to more injuries that might require opioid pain medications.
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression that typically emerges when daylight hours decrease, is a major risk factor for drug abuse.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in 2014, the majority of prescription drugs acquired for non-medical use come from a friend or relative, and 62 percent of the teen use involves drugs stolen from their parents’ medicine cabinets. Family gatherings during the winter holidays often provide additional opportunities for people to acquire prescription drugs, either through theft or simply by asking.
The Rise of Prescription Drug Abuse
The intent of prescription drugs like clonazepam is to treat a clinical health issue, but millions of people take them for nonmedical reasons. The principle medications that people abuse include painkillers, depressants and stimulants, and a portion of the substance abusers became addicted through medical use. Several studies highlight the scope of the problem, which includes the following:
- The 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) listed prescription drugs as the third-most abused substance after alcohol and marijuana.
- The Office of National Drug Control Policy in 2009 said one-third of first-time recreational drug use involved prescription drugs.
- The 2011 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) report revealed that illicit and prescription drugs are responsible for an equal number of medical emergencies.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) produced an extensive report in 2013 that explained how prescription drug use in general is at record levels. Between 2007 and 2010, nearly half of the U.S. population took a prescription drug in the preceding month, and 10 percent took five or more.
A major influence on rising prescription drug use is direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising by pharmaceutical companies. Medical Marketing & Media found that drug company expenditures on DTC marketing reached $3.8 billion in 2013, or approximately $1 for every unit sold. By comparison spending was $1 billion in 2000 and $55 million in 1991. Likewise, the BMJ journal in 2012 said companies spend 19 times more money on marketing than on basic research, and the Health Affairs journal in 2000 added that DTC advertising increases doctor visits and requests for specific drugs. Of course not every drug request is an addictive medication, but a drug-popping culture contributes to the misconception that taking drugs like clonazepam and hydrocodone involves only minimal risk.
Prescription Drug Abuse Help
Call our toll-free helpline if you or a loved one struggles with prescription drug abuse to drugs like clonazepam. Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day to take your call and offer whatever help, support and information you might need. We can even check health insurance plans for addiction treatment benefits. Substance abuse only gets worse, so please call now.