The percentage of the U.S. population taking at least one prescription drug during the past 30 days increased from 38% in 1988–1994 to 48% in 2005–2008. During the same period, the percentage taking three or more prescription drugs nearly doubled, from 11% to 21%, and the percentage taking five or more drugs increased from 4% to 11%. These data come from the CDC “Health, Unites States, 2011” report (find it here).

Meanwhile, the prevalence of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the U.S., remained steady from 1999–2000 to 2009–2010 among adult women in all age groups, and among men 45–74 years of age. Among men 75 years of age and over, prevalence rose from 39% in 1999–2000 to 45% in 2009–2010.

There goes my rationale for taking statins to lower my risk of heart attack! It seems that the drug industry is not as successful in improving our health as it claims to be.

And new drugs aimed at lowering the risk for heart disease currently being developed may be effective in achieving “surrogate endpoints” in clinical trials but not effective in reducing risk.

That was the takeaway from a new study published online recently in The Lancet. That study provided evidence that increasing the level of HDL (“good cholesterol”) does not lead to less risk for heart disease (see “HDL hypothesis is on the ropes right now“).

That’s not good news for companies that are actively developing and testing drugs that raise HDL — even if these drugs succeed in that goal they are not likely to help prevent heart disease.

There’s lots of other interesting data in the CDC report. I’ve gathered my favorite charts into the infographic shown here (click here for an enlarged view).