Prescription adherence is a big problem. Despite spending hundreds of billions of dollars every year on prescription drugs, Americans only take 50% of them. What’s the reason for this? Why spend all that money and only take half? That’s a question that the medical community has been wondering about for a long time. Of course, big pharma doesn’t really care if their products are taken, just that they are purchased. But for doctors who are trying to improve the lives and health of their patients, non-adherence is a big deal. It’s also a big deal for the patients themselves who stand to benefit from the positive effects of the medication prescribed. And it’s a big deal to the medical system as better drug adherence would reduce complications and needless hospitalizations.
There are numerous devices in existence to help people remember to take their medication on time. There are alarms, pill boxes laid out by each day of the week, and there are even pill bottles that count down the time between your last dose and your next one. None of these items has been proven to be more effective than each other to improve prescription adherence. They all work on the presumption that non-adherence is caused by forgetfulness. While that may be true in some cases, it clearly isn’t the case for most people.
So what is the problem? Why is non-adherence such a big, ongoing issue for the American healthcare system? It turns out the core of this problem lies not in patients’ memory, but in their pocket books. Back in December, the New York Times reported on this issue. It noted that forgetfulness didn’t appear to be a big factor in prescription non-adherence. It turns out that money is. The price of prescription drugs causes people to try and conserve them as much as possible. They will split them, skip doses, or not fill prescriptions to keep their costs down. The more affordable a medication is the more likely it is that people will take it as prescribed.
So what’s the implication of this? It’s kind of startling. It seems you can lay the responsibility for poor drug adherence rates right at the feet of big pharma. The billions of dollars big pharma rakes in every year on the backs of cash strapped Americans are directly responsible for those Americans not taking their prescription drugs. It shows you who the priority is for the big pharmaceutical firms. It’s not people, it’s ultimately themselves; it’s greed pure and simple. If they truly cared about the wellbeing of patients they would lower their prices so people could afford to take their prescriptions. Adherence and overall health levels would improve. Big pharma could lower its prices and increase sales because more people would regularly take and refill their medication.
Big pharma’s bottom line is all that really matters to big pharma. But for the millions of doctors who have to gain an expertise in, and have to prescribe, prescription drugs and patients who need prescription drugs, pharma’s bottom line is making their jobs harder. Prices are the main reason why people don’t adhere to their prescription drug regimens. Until pharma acknowledges their culpability in prescription non-adherence, and takes steps to rectify the problem, this issue will continue to negatively impact patients all over the US.