Prescription drug searches by state: Who’s looking for what, and where?

Online search can reveal a lot about consumers. When it comes to prescription drugs, Coyne College in Chicago decided it could pick up health insights by looking at what brand-name drugs people in different states search for.

While it’s impossible to pin down the exact consumer intent behind the searches, the map, created by agency Digital Third Coast, could be useful in understanding health concerns and health topics on people’s minds in specific locations. It could also be used by pharma companies for advertising media planning.

“Instead of wasting money promoting (Novartis' high blood pressure med) Exforge in Illinois, pharma companies would know their money is better spent in Texas or Louisiana,” said Digital Third Coast senior content manager Kyle Olson, who worked on the team to create the map for Coyne.

Targeting allows pharma companies to optimize for traditional media such as local and regional spot TV buys, but also in social and digital placements that can use location as a narrowing factor. Programmatic advertising, for instance, could use that information.

Digital Third Coast found that the drug most often searched at higher rates was the herion addiction treatment Suboxone. It ranked No. 1 in 14 states, concentrated in the northeast, but spread out all the way to Alaska.

Interest in Suboxone is likely driven by addiction concerns, but also by information seekers following widespread news coverage of the herion epidemic, Olson said. Suboxone maker Indivior is currently facing a court battle with 35 states and Washington D.C. accusing the drugmaker of switching patients to a branded version when it neared generic competition in 2009.

Other top-searched drugs included Pfizer and Bristol-Myers Squibb’s clot-fighter Eliquis in Florida, Pfizer’s erectile dysfunction treatment Viagra in California, and Shire’s ADHD med Vyanase in several southeastern and Great Lake area states.

To figure out the top searched drugs, the agency used Google data to look first at the total search volume in the U.S. for each of the top-selling 50 prescription drugs. Then they compared the U.S. search volume to each state’s search volume for each drug. The top-searched prescription brand for each state was the one that over-indexed the most when compared to the national average.

Editor's note: The original map was updated by Digital Third Coast to remove the drug Exelon because the search data was impacted by another company and the agency didn't trust the data for that keyword.