Welsh GP prescriptions up 50% but total cost is falling
The number of prescriptions dispensed by GPs in Wales has grown by more than 50% in 10 years.
More prescriptions are given per person in Wales, which scrapped charges in 2007, than any other country in the UK.
Last year 74.2 million prescriptions were written, up from 48.8 million in 2002.
However the total cost of prescribed medicines has fallen to its lowest level in nine years.
The new figures showing a 52.3% increase in prescriptions have reignited a political debate over Wales' free prescriptions policy.
Wales became the first UK nation to scrap prescription charges. Scotland and Northern Ireland have since done the same.
Welsh Conservatives would reintroduce charges for some people, spending the money saved on other parts of the NHS.
But the Welsh government pointed out that it was up to doctors to decide if a patient needed a prescription, and making them free had not changed that.
Wales dispenses 24.3 prescription items per head of population, compared to 20.8 in Northern Ireland, 18.7 in England and 18.6 in Scotland.
A Welsh government spokeswoman said: "The number of prescription items dispensed increased by 20% in Wales between 2007 and 2012 and 26% in England over the same period.
"There is no link between the number of prescriptions per head and prescription charges - Wales has dispensed more prescriptions per head than England since as far back as 1973."
Conservative shadow health minister Darren Millar said the "freebie policy" had created a perception that medicines cost nothing.
"The truth is that there is no such thing as a free prescription," he said.
"Welsh Conservatives would end this culture by scrapping Labour's free-for-all and invest the savings into improved access to modern cancer treatments, extra cash for our hospice movement and improvements in stroke care."
Raj Aggarwal, a pharmacist from Cardiff and a board member of the National Pharmacy Association, said: "Prescribed medicines represent the largest non-staff element of the NHS budget so it is vital to get value for money from this investment.
"There is a huge amount of waste - up to half of all medicines for long-term conditions are not taken as intended by the prescriber."
Despite the increase in prescriptions the overall cost has actually fallen to its lowest level in almost a decade - £557.5m.
A Welsh government spokesperson said: "Costs have declined as patents on 25 drugs expired in 2012 and there was a subsequent availability of generic equivalents at a lower cost.
"Over the past 12 months the largest savings were made in medicines for the treatment of cardiovascular disease and for the treatment of central nervous system disorders, showing a total reduction in cost of £28m as a number of medicines came off patent."
Reasons include a fall in the cost of drugs to the NHS when their patents expire, allowing other manufacturers to produce cheaper generic versions.