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Unused medications and disposal patterns at home: Findings from a Medicare patient survey and claims data

      Abstract

      Objective

      To examine what medications are most frequently left unused by patients, how much is left unused, and how these medications are disposed of among Medicare beneficiaries.

      Design

      Secondary data analysis combining insurance claims and telephone survey data of Medicare Advantage members.

      Setting

      Regional health plan in Central Pennsylvania.

      Participants

      Seven hundred twenty-one Medicare Advantage members who had Part D coverage through the plan as of December 31, 2013, and completed the telephone survey in May 2014.

      Intervention

      Telephone survey conducted by a survey research center.

      Main outcome measure

      Member survey response.

      Results

      Of the 2,994 medications in the dataset, 247 (8%) were reported being left unused by patients. Of the 247, the most common medications were those for pain (15%), hypertension (14%), antibiotics (11%), and psychiatric disorders (9%). Approximately 15% of unused medications were controlled substances. The reasons for being unused varied by drug type. For example, for pain medications, adverse effects and overprescribing were the most commonly cited reasons; for hypertension medications, “dosage changed by doctor” was the most common reason. Most commonly, unused portions accounted for approximately 25% to 50% of the unused medications identified by patients. Approximately 11% of unused medication was disposed of via drug take-back programs, whereas the majority was kept in a cabinet (55%), thrown in the trash (14%), or flushed down the toilet (9%).

      Conclusion

      A lack of patient adherence alone does not explain unused medications and their improper disposal. Community-level interventions designed to improve prescription efficiency and patient awareness of appropriate disposal methods—particularly of controlled substances—are necessary to reduce the potentially harmful effects of improper disposal of unused medications.
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      Biography

      Daniel D. Maeng, PhD, Research Investigator, Geisinger Center for Health Research, Danville, PA

      Biography

      Ryan C. Snyder, PhD, Assistant Professor, Bucknell University, Department of Chemical Engineering, Lewisburg, PA

      Biography

      Charles J. Medico, PharmD, BCPS, Pharmacy Clinical Coordinator, Geisinger Health System, Danville, PA

      Biography

      Winona M. Mold, BS, Research Assistant, Bucknell University, Department of Chemical Engineering, Lewisburg, PA

      Biography

      James E. Maneval, PhD, Professor, Bucknell University, Department of Chemical Engineering, Lewisburg, PA