Recent patterns of medication use in the ambulatory adult population of the United States: the Slone survey

JAMA. 2002 Jan 16;287(3):337-44. doi: 10.1001/jama.287.3.337.


Context: Data on the range of prescription and over-the-counter drug use in the United States are not available.

Objective: To provide recent population-based information on use of all medications, including prescription and over-the-counter drugs, vitamins and minerals, and herbal preparations/natural supplements in the United States.

Design, setting, and participants: Ongoing telephone survey of a random sample of the noninstitutionalized US population in the 48 continental states and the District of Columbia; data analyzed here were collected from February 1998 through December 1999.

Main outcome measure: Use of medications, by type, during the preceding week, compared by demographic characteristics.

Results: Among 2590 participants aged at least 18 years, 81% used at least 1 medication in the preceding week; 50% took at least 1 prescription drug; and 7% took 5 or more. The highest overall prevalence of medication use was among women aged at least 65 years, of whom 12% took at least 10 medications and 23% took at least 5 prescription drugs. Herbals/supplements were taken by 14% of the population. Among prescription drug users, 16% also took an herbal/supplement; the rate of concurrent use was highest for fluoxetine users, at 22%. Reasons for drug use varied widely, with hypertension and headache mentioned most often (9% for each). Vitamins/minerals were frequently used for nonspecific reasons such as "health" (35%); herbals/supplements were also most commonly used for "health" (16%).

Conclusions: In any given week, most US adults take at least 1 medication, and many take multiple agents. The substantial overlap between use of prescription medications and herbals/supplements raises concern about unintended interactions. Documentation of usage patterns can provide a basis for improving the safety of medication use.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Dietary Supplements / statistics & numerical data*
  • Drug Therapy / statistics & numerical data
  • Drug Utilization / statistics & numerical data
  • Drug Utilization / trends*
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Micronutrients
  • Middle Aged
  • Nonprescription Drugs
  • Plant Extracts
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Vitamins


  • Micronutrients
  • Nonprescription Drugs
  • Plant Extracts
  • Vitamins