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Following the Doctor's Orders on Your Medicine Can Save You Thousands, Prevent Hospital Stays

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Not taking your medicines as prescribed can hurt your wallet as well as your health and far outweigh any savings on your pharmacy bill.

Not filling prescriptions and even skipping doses can result in serious complications and lead to ER visits and hospital stays, even premature death.

See also: Five things your doctor dislikes about you.

Patients not taking medicine as prescribed cost the U.S. healthcare system roughly $290 billion a year in extra treatment and related costs, research shows. One study estimated those patients pay about $2,000 a year in extra out-of-pocket medical costs.

Nearly three in four Americans don't take their prescription medicine as directed. Even among those with serious chronic health conditions such as diabetes, about one in three don't.

To improve patients' health and rein in medical spending, the National Consumers League is running "Script Your Future," a three-year campaign with medical and other groups, to educate patients and get doctors and other health workers to discuss it with patients. Since it launched in the spring, more than 100,000 people have signed the league's online pledge to stick to their medication schedule.

For patients with chronic health conditions — nearly half the U.S. population — not taking medications as prescribed can bring serious consequences:

— Doctors may believe a drug they prescribed for the patient didn't work and switch to another one that has worse side effects or costs more.

— Deadly viruses such as hepatitis C and bacterial diseases such as tuberculosis, which require daily medicine for many months, can become resistant to the medicine. That can extend treatment for months, force the addition of more-toxic medicines or make curing the illness impossible.

— Patients who don't always take medicines for high blood pressure and cholesterol problems can suffer a heart attack or stroke, causing disability or death.

— Unintended pregnancy can occur from not using birth control as directed.

Despite the consequences, patient surveys show a variety of reasons for not taking medicines as prescribed, according to Script Your Future spokeswoman Rebecca Burkholder.

The most common reasons are:

— Financial problems/lack of health insurance.

— Complicated or confusing medication schedule.

— Forgetfulness.

— Problems with or fears of side effects.

— Belief the medicine isn't really needed. This is common with symptomless conditions such as high blood pressure.

Here are some strategies for addressing these problems:

— If you don't really understand why you were prescribed a drug and the consequences of not taking it, list your questions and talk to your doctor or pharmacist. If you do research on the Internet, stick to reliable websites run by government health agencies, patient advocacy groups, hospitals or universities.

Next: Talk to your doctor about any side effects from a new medicine.>>

— If you've been suffering side effects or worry a new medicine may cause them, talk to your doctor about whether there's an alternative drug or steps to lessen side effects, such as taking the drug with food or right before bed. Sometimes an additional drug may lessen side effects.

— If you can't afford your medicine, ask whether your doctor has free samples or there's a cheaper generic version.

Also, try contacting patient assistance programs run by brand-name drug manufacturers, the industry-backed Partnership for Prescription Assistance at or by nonprofit groups, including,, and Ask your pharmacy if it participates in any discount prescription card programs.

Price shop for the best deal. Some state health departments have websites for comparison of prices at different drugstores. There are also Internet drugstores with discounted prices, such as Make sure the site has the blue Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites symbol.

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