Take Your Medicine

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Here’s some information that might surprise you: as many as 125,000 deaths a year in the U.S. could be related to failure to take medicine as prescribed, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.

One study determined that prescriptions end up like this:

  • Between 50% and 70% of prescriptions get filled.
  • 48% to 66% are picked up from the pharmacy.
  • 25% to 30% are taken correctly.
  • 5% to 20% get refilled according to the original prescription.

The large number of prescriptions that never get filled could include pain medications that are prescribed in case they’re needed. Patients who don’t fill those prescriptions are making a conscious choice — and it’s probably good news.

But there may be many other reasons, including worry about the cost of the medicine or a failure to understand the importance of the medication.

If you think you might not be able to afford your medication, or you don’t understand or agree that you should take it, bring these issues up with your doctor when you get the prescription.

Once the prescription has been taken to the pharmacy, why would people choose not to pick it up? Again, cost can be an issue, but it may also be a matter of transportation problems or simple forgetting. Several Northwest Arkansas pharmacies deliver, and some prescriptions are available by mail.

Once you get your medicine, take it as prescribed.

People who don’t follow a prescription might have a number of reasons, too. Limited English and trouble with reading are common reasons. Again, if this is an issue for you or a family member, ask your doctor for help understanding how to take the medication. Studies have found that many people make mistakes with measurement. Ask for help understanding dosage if you’re not sure.

  • Disagreement with the instructions can also be an issue. Many people are told to take the whole course of antibiotics but stop taking the pills once they feel better. Other patients shared with us that they felt the medicine for a chronic disease wasn’t helping them, or that side effects made them quit taking medicine. Some patients shared that they stopped taking medication when a friend or family member advised it.

And sometimes people find it hard to keep up with prescriptions, or forget to take them. If medications get confusing, you might give up on them.

Not taking medication is one way people sometimes fail to follow instructions. But sometimes people share their prescription medicines, including antibiotics and pain pills, with friends or family members. You might think that your friend “has the same thing,” so your medication will help.

However, prescription medications are not safe for everyone — that’s why they require a prescription.

  • If you decide against the medication, talk with your doctor.

  • If you decide to stop taking a prescription medication, discuss it with your doctor before you stop taking it. It’s possible that you didn’t get all the information you needed when it was prescribed for you. It’s possible that there is an alternative medication that could help without side effects or at a lower cost.

At the very least, it’s important for your doctor to know what medications you’re taking. Share this information with your primary care physician to make sure that you get the best care possible.