Data released this week by Express Scripts indicates that 2012 saw a decrease in spending on traditional prescription drugs for the first time in more than 20 years. Among America’s commercially insured population, spending on common pharmaceuticals — including those for conditions such has high cholesterol or blood pressure — declined 1.5% last year.

Express Scripts, however, says the decline was offset by an 18.4% rise in spending on specialty medications. The aggregate trend for the year was a bump of 2.7%, similar to that of 2011. Fewer than 2% of the general population uses specialty prescriptions, the new report says, but specialty spending made up 24.5% of the total drug spend within the pharmacy benefit, the largest share on record.

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