Medically Approved

The top 10 best-selling prescription drugs


Optum Perks Author

By Optum Perks Author

According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly half of U.S. adult population takes at least one drug that requires a prescription while almost 11 percent takes five or more prescription drugs. In fact, nearly 20 percent of the nation's health care costs are from drug expenses.

Prescription drug costs are predicted to increase by 11.6 percent in 2017, at an even quicker pace than the 11.3 percent increase in 2016. Pfizer Inc, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies, raised prices on 133 of its brand-name products in 2016, with more than three-quarters of those increases being over 10 percent. Drug use is predicted to reach 4.5 trillion doses by 2020, costing around $1.4 trillion.

Top-Selling Prescription Drugs

So which drugs are considered the top-selling prescriptions? According to the Motley Fool, the top ten drugs sold from 1996 to 2016 were:

  1. Lipitor
  2. Humira
  3. Seretide
  4. Remicade
  5. Plavix
  6. Enbrel
  7. Rituxan
  8. Herceptin
  9. Avastin
  10. Nexium

The total lifetime earnings of these top ten drugs is worth over 800 billion dollars. In 2016 alone, Lipitor generated $1.76 billion in sales, pushing its lifetime sales to $148.7 billion. Keep in mind that these sales aren’t just limited to the U.S.


Four out of the top ten selling prescriptions in the U.S. increased in price by more than 100 percent since 2011 while six others increased by over 50 percent. In 2014, sales for the top 10 prescriptions went up 44 percent in 2014, even though prescriptions for the medications dropped 22 percent.

General Use of Prescription Drugs

According to CDC, the most regularly prescribed drug classes are pain killers, lipid-lowering agents, and antidepressants. In 2010, 78 percent of prescriptions filled were for those with chronic illnesses, ranging from diabetes to cancer. Specialty drug therapy for cancer, auto-immune and other chronic illnesses represented around 17 percent of total pharmacy spending.


What are the top 10 selling prescription drugs of all time used to treat?

  • Lipitor  helps to lower cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood. Taking the drug can potentially decrease the risk of stroke and certain heart conditions.
  • Humira  reduces inflammation in the body. It is for people suffering from different arthritis symptoms by easing joint pain.
  • Seretide  is a 2-in-1 inhaler that reduces inflammation and relaxes muscles around the airway. People with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) often take this drug.
  • Remicade  treats muscular dystrophy conditions by reducing inflammation in the body. A healthcare professional must inject the drug using intravenous (IV) fusion.
  • Plavix  helps to prevent platelets in the blood from clotting. Patients with a recent heart attack or stroke may benefit from this drug.
  • Enbrel  treats overactive immune systems that can cause inflammation. It is for those living with psoriasis and certain types of arthritis.
  • Rituxan  helps to stop the growth and spread of cancerous cells in the body. People with certain types of cancers such as non-Hodgkin's lymphoma or chronic lymphocytic leukemia take this drug.
  • Herceptin  is a kind of preventive that treats both breast and stomach cancer. It slows down the growth of tumors to increase survival in patients.
  • Avastin  interferes with the growth and spread of cancerous cells. It is for patients suffering from brain tumors and other forms of cancer.
  • Nexium  reduces the amount of acid in the stomach. People with reflux disorders and esophagitis find relief in this drug.

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Is The Cost Too High?

With the costs of prescriptions rising each year, is it becoming too expensive for Americans? An estimated 50 percent of medications prescribed by physicians don’t end up being taken as directed. Studies found that an increase in co-pay by only $4 resulted in a 6.2 percent increase in medication non-adherence. Below are average costs for a 30-day supply of the top-selling drugs.

With the yearly price increases, commonly taken medications are becoming difficult to afford, yet they are still necessary for good health. CDC states that non-compliance causes 30 to 50 percent of chronic illness treatment failures and 125,000 yearly deaths.