Map of prescribed psychiatric drugs in America

MostPharmaGood-1.jpg Good has this map showing the most prescribed psychiatric drugs in America.


  1. This is amazing considering Xanax as a benzodiazepine is not in the same league as the other psychiatric meds listed. It’s commonly abused while the others cannot be, and it’s not effective at all for long-term anxiety. Big pharma and addicted patients run the show and doctors are just the dealers.

    1. Xanax is in the same class of drugs as Ativan and Valium, so it’s no different in terms of effectiveness or possible abuse. And ALL of the aforementioned drugs can be abused, over prescribed, have withdrawal symptoms and sometimes permanent damages. They are ALL poison.

  2. I saw the $4.5 billion number and thought that was really small for the market value. Then opened the picture and saw that was just what was spent on advertising. Then I proceeded to shit bricks.

  3. I too am shocked at how many benzo prescriptions are out there. I guess I shouldn’t feel so much like a drug-seeking loser for asking my doctor for Ativan when I’m having insomnia.

    None of my other perscriptions (well, I don’t have any Ativan right now, so I guess that doesn’t count) are on here, which makes me feel like a badass progressive indie pill popper.

    It does say something about the American masses- they want to feel LESS, not more.

  4. I second the comments of #1. Avoid Xanax. It has short term benefits and then must be continued to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Going cold turkey can result in sleep deprivation lasting up to 2 years. It doesn’t taper off worth a damn. Some switch to another drug to get away from it. Best advice is never take it.

  5. Whatever you feel about these medications, this map is pure propaganda:

    – The entire map is filled, but not everyone in the US takes the medications
    – What’s a prescription? If a patient needs a refill 12 times a year, does that count as 12 prescriptions?
    – Many patients try out multiple drugs to find the one that’s most suitable. How is that accounted for in this data?

    The use of a map is a terrible choice. We don’t know if city dwellers or west coasters are more likely to get a prescription. In fact, there’s no geographical data being presented at all.
    A bar chart would be far more informative. Lexapro has less than 10% more prescriptions than Atavan, but because humans are bad at area estimation, it looks like the Lexapro prescriptions are much higher.
    I’d be interested to know how many people in the US took a prescription for one of the 10 drugs in 2010. Sadly, this most simple fact is not presented in this chart.

  6. It’s visually striking, but it’s an example of very bad informational graphic design. It’s what Tufte calls “duck” design, in the spirit of the hot dog stand shaped like a giant duck. 10 colors in the shape of a map to convey 10 simple numbers (how many prescriptions were written for each drug last year) and yet because of how they’re arranged you still can’t tell what the absolute numbers of prescriptions were without counting the “pills” in each section.

    On a content note, I’m surprised that Adderall and other stimulant drugs for ADD aren’t higher in the list.

    1. Agreed, the design is very misleading. At first glance it looks like Valium is prescribed on the East Cost while Xanax is prescribed on the West Coast.

    2. Clifton, it’s a shame you weren’t aware of the cunning devices used towards the top of the graphic, which would have saved you time counting pills. Those devices are called NUMBERS, and to help you out even more, they put them into different colors, matching the colors of the pills in the graphic, hopefully to prevent you mixing up the numbers. Of course, if you’re color-blind, you’re screwed.

  7. I need that point of clarification as well here. What is a prescription, if it is for one month that means that approximately 20 million Americans are using the drugs on a regular basis. I would question Xanax due to the high levels of recreational use in that figure. Nonetheless that sounds like a low number to me.

  8. Because I can’t resist an opportunity to plug my girl, K.Flay:

    This is an excellent song on the over-proliferation of mood altering pharmaceuticals.

  9. This infographic shows shit all. I wonder how many of these drugs are prescribed to prison inmates, psychiatric hospital patients, nursing home residents, etc…

  10. Although some people really need and benefit from these prescription drugs I am sure, it has been my experience that they are given out too freely. It used to be only psychiatric specialists prescribed these type medications, but now a lot are being given out by regular M.D.’s. I showed a bit of melancholy in my doctors office once and was immediately offered Cymbalta. I was given quite a few samples, which I never took.

    1. I would have got a new doctor. My First question to any new doctor is, How many Pharmaceutical reps are in your Rolodex?

    2. Yeah, we’re overmedicated like we’re oversanitized. Medication and sanitation are both useful, essentaial, wonderful results of scientific advancement of the human species, and we can do wonderful things with them.

      But then we use too much and use it for everything and just want pills to make the pain go away (and antibacterial hand wash to stop the germs that are EVERYWHERE).

      Some people need it, or can at least benefit from it, but not every twenty-something with ennui needs an antidepressant.

  11. I agree with curmudgeonlybumbly @ #5. I wanted to see which regions of the country took which drugs, and found an awkwardly-shaped pie chart.

  12. Is it weird that I’m ‘proud’ of the fact that Zoloft treats more symptoms than the rest on the list? [and that is what I take]

  13. Heaven forbid a company advertise their products, right? This Drugged Culture map is such a load of BS. What would you have done with the psychotics, serial depressed, maniacs, dementia, etc of our society? Would you prefer they walk about freely terrorizing the sane because they couldn’t get the prescriptions they need to control their symptoms? Or would you prefer too just have them strapped down at all times? Many of these medications allow people to finally live a normal productive life they would not otherwise have. I work in a psychiatric ward of a Hospital and I can tell you it is far more humane to give a manic ativan and some litium than it is to have him/her strapped down to a bed at all times. Have you ever dealt with a dementia patient that hasn’t been medicated? They’re more of a hazard to themselves without the drugs. This chart also doesn’t say where these prescriptions were coming from? Many are prescribed in a hospital setting. Again, experience from working in a hospital, some patients that have extended stays (mainly the elderly) have a habit of slipping into a psychosis. Their doctors will often prescribe them Ativan or some other anti anxiety to help ease them and prevent this. Damn those evil billions of dollars advertising pharmaceutical companies for helping those who really need it most! Very stupid infograph.

  14. I’ve known several people who take Xanax like it’s a vitamin. I really don’t understand the appeal. It’s been OK the couple of times I’ve taken it, but if I wanted an anti-anxiety med for daily use I think a glass or two of wine and/or some pot is probably the better choice.

    I take bupropion daily, I’m surprised it’s not on the list as I think it’s one of the more popular antidepressants.
    It is in my opinion the greatest drug of all time. I actually wrote a short post about it on my blog recently (

    I used to think people who took psychotropic drugs for non-recreational purposes were chemically deluding themselves. Like it was somehow a sacrifice of authenticity and a crutch for the weak.
    I know, totally stereotypical for a depressive smartass with a tendency towards self-destruction…

    Then I hit the deepest bottom of my adulthood.

    I started taking bupropion, better known as Wellbutrin. Unlike most anti-depressants, it effects primarily dopamine systems in the brain. Instead of feeling numbed I feel fucking awesome. It also has the greatest side-effect ever:
    Multiple orgasms = enabled


    To add to that:

    1) It tickles the nicotinic receptors in a way that totally kills tobacco addiction (Zyban = bupropion). I can smoke a pack of cigarettes today and still not be a “smoker” tomorrow. That whole feeling of NEEDING a cigarette just goes away and does not come back.

    2) I sleep less and feel more rested. Something about having more dopamine kicking around in your brain lowers the need for sleep, at least in me it does. The first few months I was sleeping around 5 hours a night and jumping right out of bed every morning. I used need at least 9 hours of sleep to feel “rested”. I take some other things also now that interfere with sleep and thus take ambien semi-regularly, so most nights I wind up sleeping exactly 7.5 hours. But still, compared to how I used to feel I function noticeably better with less sleep.

    3) Fun things are more fun. Dopamine plays some integral role in transmitting pleasure around your brain. It’s hard to explain with words, but things just feel better in general. Like when you’re listening to an awesome song and have the kind of self-aware moment of “wow this song is awesome!”. It’s MORE awesome. I also notice the awesomeness of things I never did before. Like a sunset, I used to just see a nice sunset and think it was pretty and that was that. Now it’s more like, “holy shit that sunset is beautiful!!!”

    3a) Sex is more awesome. I know this treads into too much detail territory and into the appearance of douchebaggy bragging, but seriously: multiple orgasms. Orgasms that last multiple minutes. Fucking like a pornstar until one of you is incoherent or passes out.

    4) Motivation is easier to find. Like when there is a mess you have to clean up but you’d rather sit on your ass. Instead of just being like, “whatever, I can deal with it later” I actually feel like just doing it.

    I could keep going with more, but I imagine anyone reading this gets the picture about what an incredible drug bupropion is.

    1. Re-reading my post I sound like such a shill. First pimping my own blog, then pimping my favorite drug… I sound like I should have a job in marketing.
      How embarrassing :(

      1. But I bet you felt AWESOME writing it! :-D

        I’m in the same boat (different psychological problems, but still thought pills were a ‘crutch’) and occasionally catch myself preaching the new perspective. Personally, I liked your post.

        1. Haha, yeah I did feel awesome writing it.
          I’m pretty careful about seeming overzealous with my advocacy of “better living through chemistry”. There is an ingrained stigma in most people that goes beyond just seeing drugs as a crutch, there’s this morality component that seems to come into play. I think it’s largely a byproduct of the War on Drugs, but if you tell someone that you “enjoy” drugs or that your life is “enhanced” by drugs there is nearly always an instinctual negative judgment. Only junkies enjoy drugs. Only “cheaters” are enhanced by drugs. Enjoyment and enhancement is either illusory or will be superseded by something negative. Drugs are bad!
          Except for the generally acceptable drugs which have been redefined in the cognitive dissonance of popular consciousness as not-drugs (e.g. caffeine). So even though the drugs I consume are all legal and legally obtained, that I don’t feel guilt or regret for taking them means something must be wrong with me.

      2. The pills sound like fun, but I worry about two side-effects: raised blood pressure and ringing/buzzing in the ears. I am suffering from depression and generalized anxiety, I’m averaging about 3 hours of sleep a night because of it, but I’m also plagued by tinnitus. I’m worried this medication will make the tinnitus even more unbearable than it already is. Any alternatives to this medication?

      3. If it makes you feel better, I’m also a fan. I’ve been on various SSRIs in the past and they always mess up my stomach. This doesn’t, which is a blessing.

    2. I loved your post, ultranaut. I, too, considered antidepressants a crutch. & in response to people who say those who take them are somehow feeling less or drugging ourselves into happiness: if you’re depressed, your chemically DEPRIVED, therefore the drug brings you up to NORMAL levels, it doesn’t make you super happy all the time. it gives people with depression an equal chance to *obtain* happiness, & we deserve it.

    3. My experience with anti-depressants is that they trigger mania. My depressive symptoms (lethargy, withdrawing from people, etc.) were replaced by manic over-energy and over-enthusiasm. I began talking to much. I became too restless. People who would have criticized me in the past for being “too quiet” or “too withdrawn” were now criticizing me for “not shutting up” and being too hyperactive. Reading your post, and the post you wrote immediately after, responding to yourself, reminds me of myself when I was in my medication-induced manic phase.

  15. Think of how the above reads to people like me and Antinous, who have to take pain meds frequently enough that we’re constantly flirting with an unwanted addiction.

    It’s not that I don’t sympathize with people who need welbutrin to function, but how come I have to have the DEA breathing down my neck 365 days a year in order to get codeine, and they get a free ride? Why can’t pain meds be easily obtained too?

    1. The problem I had with buproprion is it made me shaky, and only helped my mood a little.

      I have chronic pain, and as a result I drink too much since any doctors I talk to are opio-phobic. Everyone else seems to meet doctors who give out perco-whatevers like candy.

      There is only one painkiller in medicine — opioids. Call it codeine, morphine, heroin, or methadone, it’s the same WRT pain relief.

      Too bad I’m chickenshit. If I could manage to develop a injected heroin habit I could qualify for a methadone program.

      This junkie would pass all drug tests, even if I do like poppyseed bagels.

  16. As a substance abuse counselor and recovering addict, it troubles me that people can have such a blase attitude toward Xanax and other benzos. Withdrawal can lead to seizures and once you’ve had one, you’ll be prone to having them for the rest of your life. Anti-anxiety drugs are bullshit: meditate or get a dog.

  17. Hasn’t Boing Boing learned it’s lesson yet?

    I think every single time a GOOD graphic gets posted, it gets torn apart by the BB readership, usually in very astute ways.

    Face it: BB readers have probably read more Edward Tufte and have a better engineer’s eye for diagrams than most of GOOD’s diagram makers. Bad mistakes don’t get past them. This one, for what it’s worth, seems slightly-less-bad than some. The only gaping flaws as far as I can tell are that it looks like it might be displaying geographical information while it’s not (and is missing an opportunity to), and that it’s hard to estimate the areas of stupid and inconsistent shapes.

  18. Anti-anxiety drugs are bullshit: meditate or get a dog.

    Personally, I wouldn’t take benzodiazepines or anti-depressants. The former make me squirrely and I don’t need the latter. But I do appreciate that some people have good reasons for taking them. Benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed for people who have anxiety related to chronic illness or aging. Getting a dog or meditating might not solve their problems. Being reviled by people without empathy probably doesn’t help them much either.

    1. Being reviled by people without empathy probably doesn’t help them much either.

      It rarely does. If excessive happiness or faith in humanity ever become serious problems, it might work for those.

  19. Some people without a doubt need to be medicated. They can hurt themselves or others. But if you can’t have fun going to a movie, or hanging out with friends, you need to make a serious lifestyle change. And most people are aware of that – They just choose to take drugs anyway. Which is of course your right.

    “Pushing” the drugs on the other hand is different. It does go on, but how much? Who knows.

    The so-called “book of symptoms” is hilariously broad and vague. I wish someone would post that.

  20. Think of how the above reads to people like me and Antinous, who have to take pain meds frequently enough that we’re constantly flirting with an unwanted addiction.

    I stopped worrying about turning into a crackhead when I realized that I was only taking four Vicodin a day after being on it for twelve years, whereas my friend’s wife, who has back pain, was up to the equivalent of 32 Vicodin a day within a couple of months.

  21. I’m personally unmedicated, but I really think it’s unhelpful to judge others who’ve found meds to be helpful/essential. Some are overmedicated, some are undermedicated or unmedicated, I really think generalizations are not helpful, and you have to look at people case by case. I think exercise is underutilized for psych issues, but it’s certainly not a panacea, and it’s hard to get people started on effective dosage of it. The British Health Service (or some part of the English Gov’t), recently advocated country walks for depression, which I think is great.

    Antibacterial soap I do judge harshly, as it may will bring on the next plague.

    I think it’s intrinsically bad that 15$ for each American was spent on ads, instead of R&D.

  22. A map of prescribed drugs is nice enough, but what I really want to know is: where’s the map of all the proscribed drugs?

  23. how do you guys afford the meds? the peeps i know who genuinely need something hafta participate in clinical studies to get anything at all. it’s pretty F-ing sad.

  24. This map and the numbers of drugs prescribed and taken are amazing. As a culture we are destroying ourselves with these psychiatric drugs. I guess if the medical-psychiatric community and the FDA aren’t going to protect and warn us about this medications we will have to do it ourselves.

    Along with Dr. Peter Breggin, MD and several other concerned professionals we have Citizens Commission for Human Rights that’s bee around forever informing people about the dangers of these drugs.

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