OPINION – Mary Poppins used a spoonful of sugar to get children to take their medicine, but too many people, adults and children, have difficulty taking their medicine as instructed by their doctor.

When medicine is not taken properly, patients do not receive the full benefit of their treatment and are more likely to get sicker and return to the doctor or end up in the ER or hospital. Half of all prescriptions are not taken as prescribed, and about 125,000 deaths per year are linked to not taking medication appropriately. Medication non-adherence is estimated to cost about $250 billion annually in additional health care costs.

There are many reasons why people don’t take their medications as instructed. Many patients do not understand their diseases or the consequences of not taking their medicine as prescribed.

Remembering to take a pill two or three times a day (with or without food) is hard enough, but taking several additional medications, each with their own directions, can confuse even the most organized. Medications can have side effects, which discourages patients from continuing their medicine.

Even worse, many medications for chronic conditions do not make patients feel better or different; so they don’t know the medicine is making a difference. In addition, many people cannot afford to fill their prescriptions as instructed, so they delay refills and take only a portion of the prescribed dose. The Affordable Care Act provides new opportunities for health insurance coverage next year and increases coverage for medications in Medicare.

I am proud to be partnering with the Script Your Future campaign at town halls in the Sacramento area to help people with their medications and to teach them about the importance of taking medications as prescribed.

The campaign urges patients to ask the following questions of their doctor or pharmacist about their medications:

  1. What’s my medicine called and what does it do?
  2. How and when should I take it? And for how long?
  3. What if I miss a dose?
  4. Are there any side effects?
  5. Is it safe to take with other medicine or vitamins?
  6. Can I stop taking it if I feel better?

We want to help you take back your future by helping you take your medications as directed.
By Dr. Richard Pan

Dr. Richard Pan is a pediatrician and educator who represents Sacramento in the California Assembly. With his wife, he raises two sons and runs a small business. Follow him on Twitter: @DrPanMD.