There is an out-of-control epidemic in the United States that costs more and affects more people than any disease Americans currently worry about. It’s called non-adherence to prescribed medications, and it is 100% preventable by the very individuals it affects. The numbers are staggering. Studies have consistently shown that 20% to 30% of medication prescriptions are never filled and that approximately 50% of medications for chronic disease are not taken as prescribed.

Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop put it bluntly, “Drugs don’t work in patients who don’t take them.”

When people don’t take medications prescribed for them, emergency department visits and hospitalizations increase. Non-adherence is a huge problem because there are many different reasons why it happens. For example: “I’m old-fashioned and I don’t take medicine for nothing” or  “I am not a pill person.” Some patients take vitamins because they know that keeps them healthy. Others resist medications because they view them as chemicals or unnatural. People often do a test, stopping their medication for a few weeks, and if they don’t feel any different, they stay off them, although the consequences of ignoring medication may not show up right away but can result in long-term harm.

Cost is another major deterrent. If a drug is expensive, patients are likely to take less than the prescribed dosage, which renders it less effective.

There are many reasons patients do not bother. The prescription may be too complicated, they get confused, they don’t have symptoms, they don’t like the side effects, they can’t pay for the drug, or they believe it’s a sign of weakness to need medication. This is why it is so hard to fix the problem. If you have questions, speak with your doctor.

See you in two weeks, Chris