Chart of the Day: The Top 15 Prescription Drugs in America

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These are the best-selling prescription drugs in America, according to the research firm, IMS Health. They form the shadow of our nation's ailments. Among pharmaceutical industry watchers, the big news is that the top 10 drugs are generics, i.e. the ones Big Pharma makes little money on. For the casual observer, what stands out is that five drugs treat high blood pressure and by far the best-selling drug in this country is Vicodin. People are stressed out and hurting, apparently.

The top 15 highest-grossing drugs treat a similar but not identical set of conditions, according to IMS. Three drugs treat heart disease and cholesterol. Three more treat depression and bipolar disorder. Arthritis and asthma each have two drugs in the top 15. Acid reflux, diabetes, anemia, cancer and pain round out the list. All of the medicines with the exception of Oxycontin are for chronic conditions. Update, 4/20: Turns out that the official indication for Oxycontin states that the drug should only be prescribed when pain relief is needed for an "extended period of time."

Comparing the two lists, the most striking contrast is the revenue potential of mental health drugs, which don't get prescribed that often, but rank way up on the sales list. Lipitor is the only medication that makes both lists.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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