Fourteen of the fifteen most popular prescription drugs last year were cheap generics, demonstrating just how far the brand-name drug industry has fallen. The only branded drug that makes the list is Pfizer’s cholesterol drug Lipitor. For all slides, prescription data is from IMS Health and prices are from drugstore.com; prices are for a typical monthly dose, or a typical course of antibiotics.
No. 1 Hydrocodone/acetaminophen (painkiller)
128.2 million prescriptions in 2009
Monthly cost: $12
The country’s most popular prescription drug combines the narcotic hydrocodone with acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol. The painkiller is available as a generic and is also sold under brand names including Vicodin. A panel of doctors recently recommended that it be banned; the FDA is still deciding what to do.
Sources: For all slides, prescription data is from IMS Health and prices are from drugstore.com; prices are for a typical monthly dose, or a typical course of antibiotics.
No. 2 Simvastatin (high cholesterol)
83 million prescriptions in 2009
Monthly cost: $28
The cholesterol drug Zocor helped make Merck into a pre-eminent drug company in the 1990s. Now it is generic and by far the most widely prescribed cholesterol drug.
No. 3 Lisinopril (high blood pressure)
81.3 million prescriptions
Monthly cost: $13
Another old Merck drug, this blood pressure pill, a so-called ACE inhibitor, was sold under the brand names Prinivil and Zestril before its patent expired.
No. 4 Levothyroxine sodium (thyroid disorders)
66 million prescriptions
Monthly cost: $15
Thyroid hormone supplements are taken by millions of Americans when their bodies do not produce enough on their own.
No. 5 Azithromycin (antibiotic)
53.8 million prescriptions
Cost for a typical course: $44
This antibiotic was heavily advertised under the brand name Zithromax. It is still popular because of its convenient dosing and relatively benign side effects.
No. 6 Metformin (diabetes)
52 million prescriptions
Monthly cost: $13
Bristol-Myers Squibb sold this mainstay diabetes drug under the brand name Glucophage. It is still regarded as one of the best drugs out there for lowering blood sugar levels.
No. 7 Lipitor (high cholesterol)
51.5 million prescriptions
Monthly cost: $136
The cholesterol drug Lipitor from Pfizer is the only brand-name drug on the most popular drugs list. All the rest have lost patent protection. Pfizer’s sales of Lipitor were $11.4 billion last year, down from $12.7 billion in 2007.
No. 8 Amlodipine (high blood pressure)
50.9 million prescriptions
Monthly cost: $8
The calcium channel blocker to treat high blood pressure is better known as Norvasc from Pfizer. Like most blood pressure drugs, it has lost patent protection and become a commodity.
No. 9 Amoxicillin (antibiotic)
49.2 million prescriptions
Cost for a typical course: $12 and up.
Amoxicillin is a mainstay antibiotic used by pediatricians and others. Millions of kids get it for ear infections, even though most ear infections are caused by viruses, not bacteria.
No. 10 Hydrochlorothiazide (high blood pressure)
47.1 million prescriptions
Commonly used as a first-choice blood pressure or edema treatment. It is also included in combo drugs like Diovan.
No. 11 Omeprazole (heartburn)
45.4 million prescriptions
Monthly cost: $34
The purple pill for heartburn, a.k.a. AstraZeneca’s Prilosec, was once the bestselling drug in the world. It is still widely prescribed even though it is also now available without a prescription. Go figure.
No. 12 Alprazolam (anxiety)
Monthly cost: $70
Originally manufactured by Pfizer under the name Xanax, this anxiety drug surpassed Valium in popularity in the late ’80s; it has been generic for more than a decade.
No. 13 Furosemide (high blood pressure)
42.8 million prescriptions
Monthly cost: $14
The diuretic, or water pill, was sold under the name Lasix because it lasts six hours. It is still a common starting option for high blood pressure.
No. 14 Metoprolol tartrate (angina, high blood pressure)
40.5 million prescriptions
Monthly cost: $13
Best known as Toprol, an AstraZeneca brand, it is a beta blocker used for treating chest pain and heart failure.
No. 15 Atenolol (angina, high blood pressure)
38.6 million prescriptions
Monthly cost: $18
The first of a class of medicines known as beta-blockers, it is used to treat high blood pressure, chest pain, and heart failure.