Sunday, December 21, 2014

Over 200 Billion Dollars For Prescription Meds in U.S. Alone

Wow. Just wow.

I'm doing some research this morning for a book I'm working on - about prescription medications. I decided to do a search for how much money Canadians and Americans spent on prescription drugs in the course of one year. The numbers blew me away.

According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, in 2013, Americans spent $235,447,332,092 on prescription medications - that's over 200 billion dollars. Canadians, with a much smaller population than in the U.S., spent over 2.2 billion dollars, according to the Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association (CGPA).

The issue with so many prescription medications given to so many people is that there are some cases where the medicines may cause more problems than they solve. This could be due to the medicines not being appropriate for the particular patient or the patients may be taking them incorrectly - a major problem in itself.

For prescription medicines to be taken properly, the patients or their caregivers have to understand how to take/give the drug, when to take/give it, what it's supposed to do, and when to stop taking/giving it. Unfortunately, this isn't always as easy as it seems.

A study published in 2009 in the Journal of General Internal Medicine looked at prescription drug use and patient errors. The authors wrote:

"Physicians may assume patients can interpret prescription drug label instructions, yet four out of five patients (79%) in this study misinterpreted one or more of the ten common prescription label instructions they encountered."

For the study, 359 adults (average age 49 years) were asked to look at 10 prescription medicine labels and interpret them. According to the researchers:

"Seventy-eight percent of patients misunderstood one or more instructions, with 37% misunderstanding a minimum of three labels."

When I was working clinically as a nurse, I often advised patients, and I now advise family and friends to always double check their prescriptions with their pharmacist. Pharmacists are front-line healthcare professionals and they are often the easiest person to get hold of for matters like this.

Also, as a nurse, I would (gently!) scold patients who would grab the medications I handed them and just swallow the pills, without looking at them. I used to explain to my patients that they should take a look at what they are receiving and ask questions if the pills don't look like the ones that they normally take. There may be a perfectly good reason for that (change in dose, different manufacturer), but there could also be an error. If a patient questioned a medication I gave, I always took it back and double checked it. Most of the time, everything was fine - but there were the odd times when a mistake had been made somewhere along the chain.

So, moral of the story? Know your prescriptions. Know your meds. Ask questions. It's your right to know what you're putting in your body.