The Top 50 Drugs Prescribed in the United States
Every year, there are more than 3 billion outpatient prescriptions filled at U.S. pharmacies. If you’ve been to a pharmacy lately, this probably isn’t surprising. Most pharmacies are constantly busy and you’ve probably had to wait to pick up your medicines. Here’s a look at the top 50 prescription drugs in the United States. How many of them are familiar to you? (List includes drugs doctors prescribe that may be available over the counter.)
The Top 10 Prescription Drugs
Atorvastatin treats high cholesterol. It is a member of the statins or HMG-CoA reductase inhibitor class. The class has been around for decades. Atorvastatin has gained on other drugs in the class since 2011. The brand name is Lipitor. Total prescriptions: 112,474,023.
Levothyroxine treats hypothyroidism. It is a synthetic version of the thyroid hormone T4. Brand names include Levothroid, Levoxyl, Synthroid and Unithroid. Over the last 10 years, levothyroxine has always landed in the top three prescription drugs. Total prescriptions: 105,773,990.
Lisinopril is an ACE (angiotensin-converting enzyme) inhibitor. Doctors use it in the treatment of high blood pressure, heart failure, and following a heart attack. Brand names include Prinivil and Zestril. It has bumped back and forth between the first three spots over the last 10 years. Total prescriptions: 97,608,879.
There are more than 34 million Americans with diabetes. So, it’s no surprise that metformin—a drug that treats type 2 diabetes—has consistently remained in the top 10 drugs. Brand names include Fortamet, Glucophage, Glumetza and Riomet. Total prescriptions: 83,762,981.
Amlodipine is a calcium channel blocker. It treats high blood pressure and angina (chest pain). Since it became available as a generic drug in 2005, it has gained popularity and risen into the top 10 drugs. And out-of-pocket costs for the drug have gone down. The brand name is Norvasc. Total prescriptions: 75,811,947.
Metoprolol is a beta blocker. Doctors use it to treat high blood pressure, angina, heart failure, and following a heart attack. Metoprolol usage has remained fairly steady over the last decade. Brand names include Lopressor and Toprol XL. Total prescriptions: 71,581,961.
Albuterol is an older drug, with commercialization dating back to the 1960s. It was also a breakthrough in treating asthma. Today, doctors use it to treat bronchospasm from a variety of lung problems. Its consistent top ranking is a testament to its effectiveness. Brand names include Accuneb, Proair, Proventil and Ventolin. Total prescriptions: 60,526,457.
Omeprazole treats heartburn, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), and stomach ulcers. It was the first member of the PPI (proton pump inhibitor) class to gain FDA approval. Its use has increased since it became available over the counter. This also decreased the out-of-pocket cost for the drug. The brand name is Prilosec. Total prescriptions: 58,364,556.
Losartan is an ARB (angiotensin receptor blocker). Doctors use it to treat high blood pressure and to treat kidney disease in people with diabetes. Losartan broke into the top 50 drugs in 2011 and has been rising ever since. The brand name is Cozaar. Total prescriptions: 50,479,750.
Simvastatin is another member of the statin class. Its usage peaked in 2011 and has been declining since then. In part, this is likely the result of safety warnings from the FDA regarding maximum dosages and risk of side effects. Still, it remains the second most popular statin after atorvastatin. The brand name is Zocor. Total prescriptions: 48,007,043.
Other Top-Selling Prescription Drugs
The remaining 40 top-selling prescription drugs include:
- Gabapentin (Neurontin). Total prescriptions: 45,586,654
- Hydrocodone/acetaminophen (Lortab, Norco, Vicodin, various others). Total prescriptions: 42,073,176
- Hydrochlorothiazide (Esidrix, Hydrodiuril, Microzide, Oretic, Zide). Total prescriptions: 40,575,075
- Sertraline (Zoloft). Total prescriptions: 38,383,042
- Montelukast (Singulair). Total prescriptions: 35,222,630
- Fluticasone (Flonase, Flovent, Cutivate, various others). Total prescriptions: 34,253,764
- Amoxicillin (Amoxil, Polymox, Trimox, various others). Total prescriptions: 31,371,675
- Furosemide (Lasix). Total prescriptions: 29,857,945
- Pantoprazole (Protonix). Total prescriptions: 28,958,134
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol, various others). Total prescriptions: 27,907,360
- Prednisone (Deltasone, various others). Total prescriptions: 27,057,494
- Escitalopram (Lexapro). Total prescriptions: 25,978,773
- Fluoxetine (Prozac, Rapiflux, Sarafem, Selfemra). Total prescriptions: 25,619,277
- Dextroamphetamine/amphetamine salts (Adderall). Total prescriptions: 25,331,775
- Tramadol (Ultram, various others). Total prescriptions: 24,952,328
- Insulin glargine (Lantus, Toujeo). Total prescriptions: 24,911,721
- Bupropion (Budeprion, Buproban, Wellbutrin, Zyban, various others). Total prescriptions: 24,488,843
- Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, various others). Total prescriptions: 24,453,501
- Rosuvastatin (Crestor). Total prescriptions: 24,138,061
- Pravastatin (Pravachol). Total prescriptions: 24,022,031
- Trazodone (Desyrel, various others). Total prescriptions: 23,889,624
- Tamsulosin (Flomax). Total prescriptions: 23,254,004
- Carvedilol (Coreg). Total prescriptions: 22,737,638
- Meloxicam (Mobic). Total prescriptions: 22,610,690
- Citalopram (Celexa). Total prescriptions: 22,224,263
- Duloxetine (Cymbalta). Total prescriptions: 21,217,653
- Alprazolam (Xanax). Total prescriptions: 20,843,479
- Potassium (K-Dur, Klor-Con, Klotrix, Micro-K, Slow-K, various others). Total prescriptions: 20,414,037
- Clopidogrel (Plavix). Total prescriptions: 20,016,095
- Aspirin (various). Total prescriptions: 19,750,180
- Ranitidine (Zantac). Total prescriptions: 18,739,686
- Atenolol (Tenormin). Total prescriptions: 18,644,884
- Cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril). Total prescriptions: 18,041,836
- Glipizide (Glucotrol). Total prescriptions: 17,549,602
- Methylphenidate (Concerta, Metadate, Ritalin, various others). Total prescriptions: 17,467,265
- Azithromycin (Zithromax). Total prescriptions: 17,102,628
- Clonazepam (Klonopin). Total prescriptions: 17,064,643
- Oxycodone (Oxaydo, Oxycontin, Roxicodone, various others). Total prescriptions: 16,967,479
- Allopurinol (Aloprim, Lopurin, Zyloprim). Total prescriptions: 16,374,431
- Venlafaxine (Effexor, Effexor XR). Total prescriptions: 16,121,149
These rankings for the most common prescription drugs come from the ClinCalc DrugStats database. This database estimates prescription drug usage from the annual Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS). MEPS is a project of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). It measures how Americans use medical care, including prescription drugs.
AHRQ surveys patients and healthcare providers to compile this information. Because it is a survey, it includes drugs doctors prescribe that may be available over the counter, such as aspirin. There is an inherent delay between collecting the data and issuing the DrugStats list. So, this top-selling prescription drugs list for 2021 represents prescriptions from 2019.