The medications most frequently abandoned were cough, cold, allergy, asthma and skin medications, those used on an as-needed basis. Insulin prescriptions were abandoned 2.2 percent of the time, but Douglas Warda, director of pharmacy for ambulatory services at the University of Chicago Medical Center, said this might be a cost issue, but it could also be that some people are afraid to inject insulin.
The study also found that antipsychotic medications were abandoned 2.3 percent of the time.
Drugs least likely to be abandoned included opiate medications for pain, blood pressure medications, birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy, and blood-thinning medications, according to the study.
Young people between the ages of 18 and 34 were the most likely to forgo their prescriptions, and new users of medications were 2.74 times more likely to leave their drugs behind.
Prescription orders that were delivered to the pharmacy electronically -- via the computer -- were 64 percent more likely to be abandoned than prescriptions walked into the pharmacy.
"We're definitely not saying that e-prescribing is bad; it's great, but there appear to be some unintended consequences," said Shrank.
There was no way to tell if people never tried to pick up their prescriptions, or if they went to retrieve them but chose to leave them behind because of the cost.
Warda said he believes that more patients might pick up their medications if the instructions from their physicians were clearer. For example, prescriptions for proton pump inhibitors were left at the pharmacy 2.6 percent of the time. These medications reduce the amount of acid in the stomach and can help prevent heartburn or more serious problems. "If the physician message is, 'You need to take these medications for two to three mo
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