How COVID has Shaped Consumer Health, Prescription Drug Trends

July 20, 2020

SingleCare analyzed consumer prescription demand and fill data in the weeks leading up to shelter in place orders, beginning in March, and the subsequent months after the pandemic to see how COVID has impacted the healthcare trends of Americans.

SingleCare, a pharmacy savings company, analyzed consumer prescription demand and fill data in the weeks leading up to coronavirus shelter in place orders, beginning in March, and the months after the pandemic to see how COVID-19 has impacted the healthcare trends of Americans.

Antidepressant fills spike to new highs

According to the report, a drug group that has seen significant increases since the start of the pandemic is antidepressants. SingleCare has seen a nearly 50% increase in fills for antidepressants in the third week of June, a similar increase occurred in the third week of March when social distancing and sheltering in place began, the report says.

In a recent SingleCare survey of 1,000 U.S. respondents, 59% said COVID-19 has affected their mental health.

“Between the concern over job loss, isolation, and general anxiety, this growing trend in antidepressants over the past few months may well be due to the pandemic’s impact on mental health,” Ramzi Yacoub, Pharm.D., the chief pharmacy officer at SingleCare, says.

Cold and flu decline while allergy and asthma medications surge

SingleCare analyzed the top prescription fills by volume during the months of March to May 2020 and compared those figures to the fills during the same three month period in 2019.

Two trends found:

  • A marked increase in respiratory medications to address COVID-related symptoms.
  • A marked decrease in the purchase of cold and flu medications likely due to shelter-in-place and quarantine guidelines.

Compared to 2019, SingleCare saw a 41% increase in Albuterol, a common rescue inhaler, 35% increase in cetirizine (the generic version of Zyrtec), and a 44% increase in ibuprofen.

However, the company saw a decrease in fills for benzonatate, a common cough medicine, at 19%, and a 23% decrease in fills for oseltamivir, the generic version of Tamiflu.

Flu vaccinations increase by 500% from last year at the start of the pandemic

While cold and flu medications declined as a result of the pandemic, Americans rushed to the pharmacy for flu vaccines as the threat of COVID emerged.

However, as the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. spread, as did flu vaccine fills:

  • Between the weeks of February 24 to March 9 to the same time period last year, SingleCare saw a 507% increase in demand for Flucelvax Quad and a 483% increase in demand for Fluzone Quad.
  • Comparing the same dates above to the three weeks prior, SingleCare saw a 44% increase in demand for Flucelvax Quad and a 56% increase in Fluzone Quad.

The access and affordability of healthcare during COVID-19

In a recent SingleCare survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers, 58% said they did not understand how their prescription medications were priced. SingleCare believes in transparency of healthcare pricing and helps consumers access lower prices on prescriptions so that they can continue to adhere to necessary medications, the report says.

After reviewing the drug categories of the prescription medications previously mentioned, SingleCare saw a decrease in the usual and customary (UNC) price for these medications when comparing the time periods of March to May 2020 with March to May 2019.

“Various factors can contribute to the pricing of prescriptions, such as demand, number of manufacturers, new generics or brand entrants into the market, and the cost of ingredients,” says Yacoub. “The increase in demand for antiasthmatics, antivirals, and antidepressants along with the impact of COVID-19 may have contributed to the overall reduction in the usual and customary cost of these drug groups.”

In addition, the survey revealed 21% stopped taking medications since the pandemic began, as a result of cost or access, and 27% opted to skip doctor’s appointments due to financial constraints created by the pandemic.