US Insights

Drug Prices, Opioid Addiction Top List of Global Health Challenges

Michael Fronstin

General Manager - Kantar Health

Health 09.19.2018 / 09:00


Medicine affordability, mental health and opioid abuse are having global impacts.

Medicine affordability, mental health and opioid abuse stand as the toughest challenges currently facing the global health system according to the findings from Kantar Health's latest reserach.

The 2018 edition of The Global Health and Wellness Report brings together more than 20 years of study and more than 3 million patient survey responses on the true impact of approximately 200 health conditions and thousands of sub-segments. The report provides insights on some of the most pressing health challenges facing populations in the United States, the EU5 (France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom), Japan and growth markets like China, Brazil and Russia.

Key findings from the 2018 report include: 

  • 1 in 5 U.S. patients report not filling a prescription due to cost.
  • Chinese prescription drug use dramatically fell between 2009 and 2017 in favor of cost-saving, traditional Chinese medicine.
  • Opioid use increased in 27 U.S. states from 2011 to 2017.
  • Rates of U.S. adults contemplating suicide has dramatically risen from 2011 to 2017.
  • The U.K. and U.S. rank highest in adults reporting depression.
  • Mental illness in China and Japan is not discussed openly due to strong social stigmas.

Our research points to five pillars around which the most impactful issues affecting global health and wellness are coalescing today. 


Affordability continues to be a globally dominant issue as governments and private payers are challenged to provide patients appropriate access to effective treatments while balancing the costs of those therapies. Payers are pushing manufacturers for more evidence to support reimbursement, which often includes a combination of real-world evidence focused on unmet medical need and/or patient registries and comparative effectiveness studies.

Patients are also taking a stand and implementing their own cost saving strategies, which can be dangerous as non-compliance can reduce efficacy and speed up disease progression. In fact, about one in five patients in the United States report having chosen not to refill a prescription at some point due to cost. The United States ranks highest in this category compared with the EU5, Japan and Brazil. U.S. patients are most likely to employ cost savings strategies such as: 

  • Taking less medicine than prescribed,
  • Cutting tablets in half,
  • Not filling a prescription because it was too expensive,
  • Not filling a prescription and using an OTC medicine to save money,
  • Buying a prescription less often than directed.

In China, GHWR data indicates that there’s been a significant drop in prescription medicine use for a variety of diseases and conditions, including pain, insomnia, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and osteoporosis. We believe this can be attributed to a concerted effort by the Chinese government to promote much less expensive traditional Chinese medicine as having equal status to Western medicines in managing disease.


While overall U.S. prescription opioid use peaked in 2010, 27 U.S. states actually experienced an increase in opioid use from 2011 to 2017. What’s more, Kantar Health research indicates that working-class communities have been the most vulnerable, as these communities are failing to respond to anti-opiate messaging. Thus, opiates are thriving in communities that do not thrive.

RXPain Meds Use 2018

For example, in New Jersey, Kantar Health research indicates that opiate use is linked to income, education and employment. For income, we found that more than two times as many opioid users in New Jersey have a household income of less than $25,000 versus those who do not use opioids. Additionally, opioid users are more likely to be non-college grads, unemployed, and are four times more likely to be on disability. 

Mental Illness

Given the recent high-profile suicides of Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, and singers Avicii and Kim Jonghyun, we found that there’s been a renewed global focus on mental health. However, in Asian countries such as Japan and China, our research indicates that there is still a strong stigma associated with mental illness that prevents it from being discussed openly. For example, in China, nearly twice as many adults are symptomatic of depression, 3.5%, compared with those actually diagnosed, 1.9%.


Meanwhile, in the United States, there’s been a precipitous spike in the number of Americans considering suicide – including those having alarming thoughts of “I would be better off dead” for several days, for more than half the days, or nearly every day. Similarly, in the United States and the EU5, the self-reported rates for overall mental health conditions have increased, but these increases have not carried over to the diagnosis rates. In fact, the United States and UK have the highest percentage of adults who have self-reported that they have experienced depression, with the United States registering at 28 percent and the UK registering at 26 percent.

Health Tech 

Individuals are taking more accountability for their health decisions and increasingly dictating how the healthcare industry operates. Since 2015, the use of health-related apps has increased 25%, while the use of wearable technology has increased 12.3%. Today, 21% of American adults report owning an mHealth device for the purpose of monitoring their health or fitness. There has also been a rise in telemedicine, with 4.8 million U.S. adults having used telemedicine in the past year – marking a 35% increase since 2017.

However, we believe there are barriers to wider adoption, as 47% of patients say that they are concerned about their health and fitness data being securely stored online, and 23% say that web connected devices are too complicated for them to use. Additionally, patient awareness of mHealth devices is another key barrier, with 59% of patients with diabetes saying that they're unfamiliar with web-connected glucose monitoring systems that connect wirelessly with a smartphone, and 66% of patients with heart conditions saying that they're unfamiliar with web-connected wireless blood pressure monitors.

Growth Markets

While the healthcare growth markets share some of the same challenges as mature healthcare markets – namely rising healthcare costs, affordable access to medicines and costly chronic conditions – there are pronounced differences in each of these growth countries that necessitate the need for comprehensive, market-specific plans to achieve success.

In China, the government is focusing on oncology and the treatment of chronic conditions given their significant impact on the population; and, while China is still largely a generics market, it's attempting to accelerate its approval process for innovative medicines. Additionally, Brazil is another strong healthcare growth market that features a unique public-private system, offering many opportunities for pharma companies to grow their brands and launch new medicines. Capitalizing on new technology and innovation in these and other growth markets will result from companies working to differentiate their innovative medicines and defend the value of their offerings.

Source: Kantar Health

Editor's Notes

To download Kantar Health's full Global Health and Wellness Report, please visit

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