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Lives And Money Could Be Saved If We Only Took Our Medications As Prescribed

A University of Charleston pharmacy student gives a blood glucose test to a woman at Ravenswood Senior Center as part of a health fair.
Kara Leigh Lofton
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

290 billion dollars are spent each year in avoidable healthcare costs related to medication non-adherence - including emergency department, hospitalization, and pharmacy costs - according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Failing to take medications as prescribed results in about 125,000 deaths a year, according to a 2012 study published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

This story was produced by West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

Three out of four people do not take their prescription medication as directed, and one out of three people never fill their prescriptions, according the National Consumers League.  So several schools of health professionals, including students from the University of Charleston pharmacy school, are trying to increase awareness about the issue.

At a senior center in Ravenswood, West Virginia, students from the University of Charleston pharmacy school are holding a health fair, offering services like blood sugar and blood pressure testing for free to the community.

The fair is just one of 23 events the UC pharmacy students have held over the past two months as part of Script Your Future – a nationwide medication adherence campaign.

The campaign also includes seminars on yoga and healthy meal planning for disease management, and a Run for Women’s Health 5k. This is the fourth year UC pharmacy school students have participated in the campaign.

Karrie Juengel, an assistant professor at the UC school of pharmacy, says medication non-adherence is “not taking your medications as prescribed.” That can include not taking your medications at all, splitting your medications in half even though you aren’t supposed to, skipping a day because you are trying to save money – even storing your medications in the wrong place. (She says the bathroom medicine cabinet is too humid for most medications.)

Fourth year UC pharmacy student Meilssa Buse says there are four main reasons people don't take medications as prescribed: (1) they don't understand how medication works; (2) they’re worried about side effects; (3) they can't afford prescriptions; and (4) they forget to take their medications.

Buse says she thinks a lot of patients are afraid to ask questions of their doctors or pharmacists because they feel their medical provider doesn’t have time for them.

“So then they don’t really know what to expect from their medications or don’t know how important it is to take their medications ,so they don’t do it,” she says.

She says if a patient can’t afford a medication or feels like what he’s taking isn’t working, he should talk to his doctor or pharmacist – not just stop taking it.

Research published late last year for the Script Your Future campaign found that improved communication between patients and healthcare providers does lead to more patients taking prescribed medications as directed.