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US economic woes "leading to risky Rx practices"

World News | September 29, 2011


Lynne Taylor

US economic woes "leading to risky Rx practices"

Financial pressures are leading more Americans to take potentially dangerous actions with prescription drugs, a new survey has found.

At the US Consumers Union, the Consumer Reports' National Research Center has for the last three years conducted an annual survey asking consumers about their medication and health care use, and this year, the percentage of people who reported skimping on medication and other forms of health care rose by nine percentage points from 39% to 48%, the largest increase so far, it says.

49% of US adults contacted for the survey said they currently take at least one prescription medicine, and the average number of drugs people reported taking regularly was 4.5. Of the people in this group, 48% said they took steps to save money, some of them potentially dangerous, including: - putting off a doctor's visit - 21%; - delaying a medical procedure - 17%; and - declining a medical test - 14%.

Within that group, 28% took "significant risks with their medication" in order to save money, including: - not filling a prescription - 16%; - taking an expired medication - 13%; - skipping a scheduled dose without asking a doctor or pharmacist - 12%; - splitting pills in half without consent of their doctor or pharmacist - 8%; - and sharing a prescription with someone else - 4%.

Generic use remains high, the survey also found, with adults taking prescription medication reporting that three out of every four of their prescriptions were filled with generics. But 39% said they had a concern about generics or expressed a misconception about them. For example, they thought generics were not as effective or safe as brand-name drugs, that they caused different side effects, or that they did not have to meet the same federal standards.

A majority of those surveyed said their doctor regularly recommended generics, but 41% said their physician did so only sometimes, or never.

Many doctors do not talk to their patients about drug costs, the survey also found, with just 5% finding out about a prescribed drug's cost at the doctor's office, while 64% discovered this information at the pharmacy while picking up their prescription.

"If a patient can't afford their medication, that's something his or her doctor needs to know, but to find out, doctors have to ask," said John Santa, director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center.

"Doctors should think of themselves of stewards of their patients' care, and that includes considering their patients' ability to pay for treatment," he added.

Consumer Reports advises consumers that, if cost is an issue, they should raise it with their doctor when being prescribed a medication, particularly one for a long-term chronic condition, and also ask about generics.

They should also ask their pharmacist about costs and about special discount generic drug programmes. Finally, the group warns: "avoid free samples when possible. They're usually for the most expensive medications that don't have generic equivalents, and that can cost you when it's time to fill the prescription.”

The survey also found that 18% of respondents had asked their doctor to prescribe a drug they saw advertised, and 70% of those who did so reported that their doctor had complied. But 85% also said they were concerned about drug companies that "reward" doctors for writing prescriptions for their drugs, and 70% expressed concerns about doctors who are paid to give testimonials or serve as spokespeople for drug companies.

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