Crestor Tops List of Most Prescribed Drugs In U.S.

The cholesterol drug Crestor is the most prescribed medication in the United States, according to a new report, with more than 22.2 million prescriptions over the last year. 

Medscape Medical News issued a report on Monday detailing the 100 most prescribed brand-name drugs between October 2013 and September 2014. Instead of looking at sales numbers, which can vary widely due to the different prices of drugs, the report looks at actual prescriptions.

Crestor tops the list with 22,279,247 prescriptions doled out in the U.S. over the last year. It is followed closely by the drug Synthroid, which is used to treat hypothyroidism and thyroid cancer, with 22,258,461 prescriptions. Coming in a distant third is the heart burn drug Nexium with 17,745,935 prescriptions.

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Leading the list does not necessarily translate into highest revenue for the drug maker, as the antipsychotic medication Abilify (ariprazole) has been identified as the top-selling drug in the United States last year, generating sales of $7.5 billion. However, Abilify only ranks 13th among most prescribed drugs, with just 8,825,094 prescriptions; a little more than a third the number of prescriptions racked up by Crestor, which pulled in $5.8 billion.

Crestor (rosuvastatin) is an AstraZeneca drug that belongs to a popular class of medications known as statins, which have generated combined sales of more than $14.5 billion per year as a class. However, several of the other most widely used statins have become available as generics, including Lipitor and Zocor.

Crestor and other statin-based cholesterol drugs have received a sales boost over the past year, after the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the American Heart Association (AHA) issued new guidelines late last year, which call for doctors to only use statins for cholesterol control, and to keep patients with virtually any risk of heart disease on the medications in perpetuity.

The guidelines have faced strong criticism by health care experts who say they amounted to a giveaway to drug makers and that they would put millions of Americans unnecessarily at risk of statin side effects, such as muscle damage, kidney problems, and diabetes.

In February 2012, the FDA required the makers of Lipitor, Crestor and other statins to add new warnings about the potential risk of diabetes from statins, indicating that the drugs may impact blood glucose levels.

AstraZeneca currently faces a number of Crestor lawsuits filed on behalf of former users of the cholesterol drug who were diagnosed with diabetes, alleging that the drug maker has known for years that the medication may increase the risk of diabetes, yet withheld information about the importance of monitoring blood glucose levels and the potentially serious health problems that may result from a diabetes diagnosis on Crestor. Most of those cases are currently pending in California state court.

A number of similar Lipitor diabetes lawsuits are being pursued against Pfizer by women who used the cholesterol drug. Otherwise healthy women now diagnosed with diabetes have alleged that they never would have agreed to take Lipitor as a preventative measure to reduce cholesterol levels if they had been informed about the potential diabetes risk.

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