TRENTON, New Jersey (AP) — Spending on prescription drugs in the U.S. 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 released Tuesday by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, an arm of health data firm IMS Health, 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.
Spending on generic drugs last year's few growth areas, driven by patients with no health insurance or financial problems, insurance company lists of preferred drugs and new generic versions of a number of widely used drugs. Nearly four in five prescriptions filled last year were for generic drugs.
"These trends combined to make 2010 the second-lowest sales growth period ever measured by IMS," said Michael Kleinrock, the institute's director of research development. "The lowest was 2008."