More than one billion prescriptions were dispensed in 2012, the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) has revealed.
Although the number has been rising each year in England, the net cost is down to 2009 levels for the second year running, at around £8.5 billion.
Prescription items, (for example a course of tablets or an asthma inhaler) have also risen per head of the population, from 12.4 in 2002 to 18.7 in 2012.
HSCIC believes the reason for the rise is a larger, aging population, while the fall in cost is because patents for several leading medicines have expired, meaning generic alternatives have become available.
Prescriptions to treat diabetes accounted for the biggest net cost by treatment area for the sixth year running at £767.9 million, a 2.2% rise on 2011.
And 90% of prescription items were given out for free. About 60% of these were for older people, and about 5% for young people (those aged under 16 and in full-time education).
HSCIC chair Kingsley Manning said: “For the first time, one billion prescription medicines have been dispensed to our communities in just one year. This figure reflects a continuing upward trend in prescription numbers, which is in contrast to a recent fall in total net cost.
“Today's report does therefore show both the way in which the volume of prescriptions required from the NHS is moving, and that the NHS has been able to manage the cost impact.”