Suboxone (buprenorphine/naloxone), an opioid-addiction treatment made by Indivior and others, was Googled at higher-than-average rates in more states (14) than any other prescription drug, according to an analysis by Chicago's Coyne College.
The second most-searched prescription drug was Shire's Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine dimesylate), a stimulant used to treat ADHD and binge-eating disorder. Search volumes for Vyvanse outperformed the national average in seven states.
Coyne researchers analyzed Google search data related to the top 50 best-selling branded drugs in the U.S. They gathered raw data, calculated average national search volumes for each of the drugs and then compared the data state-by-state to see where people are searching for these drugs more than average.
“By analyzing what people in different parts of the country search in Google, we can learn an extraordinary amount of information about their lives,” Coyne stated. And when it comes to health challenges, “one of the ways we can tell what people are concerned about is by analyzing what pharmaceutical drugs they search for.”
The overall significance of Coyne's analysis of prescription-drug Googling is unclear. But some inferences can be made, given current trends. Many states are struggling with opioid addiction, for example, and government agenices at the state and federal level are seeking ways to combat the growing crisis.
Take Colorado, one of the 14 states in which Suboxone was the most-searched prescription drug. In October, Colorado's Attorney General Cynthia Coffman joined her counterparts in 35 other states to sue makers of Suboxone for allegedly creating a monopoly by blocking generics and artificially boosting the drug's price. She cited the public health crisis in Colorado involving opioid addiction and overdoses, saying at the time “we cannot stand by and allow pharmaceutical companies to manipulate the market for a drug that breaks the addiction cycle.”
What's the significance of Californians' heavy Googling for information on Viagra? Does it translate into more prescriptions? Or perhaps the impact is less tangible. In September, WalletHub ranked the “20 happiest states” in the U.S. for 2016, based partly on emotional and physical well-being. California ranked 10th in the nation.
Google itself offers a broader view in its own tracking of interest levels on various topics. For example, the U.S. actually ranks third globally in searches for "viagra" — well above the United Kingdom but slightly below India. Canada, where women slightly outnumber men, tops the list.