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The Cost of Prescription Drugs Throughout the US

Every year, the country spends billions upon billions of dollars on prescriptions filled at retail pharmacies. Money aside, the sheer volume of prescriptions filled and dispensed by retail pharmacies within the span of 12 months is enormous. We wanted to take a deep dive into those numbers to examine the state by state breakdown of payment methods, prescriptions purchased, and the total spent on prescription drugs throughout 2018. 


The prescriptions transactions we researched included those covered by commercial insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, and prescriptions purchased outright by those without insurance. The data we collected does not include, however, prescriptions filled in clinics, hospitals, physicians’ offices, or pharmacies within a closed health care system. You can review the results below:


prescription spending totals by state

The overall spending on prescriptions in 2018 varied by state, with a huge disparity between states that spent the least on prescription drugs vs those that spend the most. Texas spent over $33 billion on prescription drugs in 2018 alone while North Dakota spent a mere $558 million. Both numbers are extremely high to the average person, but in reality, North Dakota spent only 1.68% of Texas’s annual spending on prescription drugs. 


statistics of prescription drugs filled per capita by state

Based on 2018 population estimations, the national average for prescriptions filled per capita hovered around just under 12, which equates to around 1 prescription, per person, per month. However, some states were well above that average, with Kentucky topping the list at an average of 18.4 prescriptions filled per capita in 2018. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Alaska only had an average of 6.4 prescriptions filled per capita based on their 2018 population and the total number of prescriptions filled.


cost per prescription by state

By examining the total number of prescriptions filled and looking at the total amount spent by each state, our team was able to estimate the average cost per prescription. Alaska had the highest cost per prescription by a fair margin at just over $151, while Rhode Island had the lowest average cost per prescription at under $70.


sales for prescription drugs by state in U.S.

Retail prescriptions are paid for through four different methods: commercial payers, Medicare, Medicaid, or Cash. Commercial payers include commercial insurance and a couple of government programs including the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the Veterans Administration (VA), and the Indian Health Service. Cash refers to prescriptions filled without payer involvement or reimbursement, typically from those who are uninsured. The breakdown of payment methods varied greatly by state. In some cases, Medicare and Medicaid comprised the majority of payment methods, in others, commercial payments were most common. You can look at your state’s prescription payment breakdown in the table above.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

While most prescriptions are completely legitimate and provide patients with medication that they need, prescription drug abuse has been on the rise for years. If you or someone you love has been struggling with prescription opioid abuse, our experts can help. You can find resources for understanding drug addiction on our site here.

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