Overprescribing and addiction to the powerful opioid painkillers have been headline news for several years—and you'd be forgiven for assuming the drugs are fueling the annual growth of prescription drug sales around the world.
But they don't even come close. Pharmaceutical sales are growing by an average of 6 percent a year and are anticipated to hit $1.18 trillion globally by 2024—but opioids play a minor part in that growth.
In the 10 years from 2008 to 2018, opioid sales have increased by around 20 percent—but that's dwarfed by a range of other drugs. Over the same period, the epilepsy and anxiety drug Lyrica (pregabalin) has seen sales rocket by 660 percent, and the anticonvulsant Neurontin (gabapentin) by 319 percent. Antidepressants have also shown strong growth, with a 97 percent rise in annual sales.
Growth is one thing; revenue generated by sales is another, and way out in the lead are the anticancer drugs, whose anticipated revenues by 2024 will reach $236.6 billion worldwide. That's more than the next six drug categories combined.
In 2018, the drugs generated sales of $123.8 billion, and industry experts are expecting those sales to rise by 11 percent as up to one in two of us are diagnosed with cancer.1
Diabetes drugs are also expected to continue their growth—aided by our diet of fast food—with sales expected to reach $57.6 billion globally by 2024, while vaccine sales are forecast to hit $44.8 billion, showing a growth spurt of 6.6 percent, thanks to the various health scares about measles and the rest.
With 50 percent of adults in America now taking at least one prescription drug every month, and one in four taking three or more drugs, the take-home message is simple enough: don't sell your shares in Big Pharma just yet.
Looking back: drug best-sellers
Increase in sales, 2008 to 2018
(Source: NHS UK)