Half don’t take meds as directed

woman taking pills

Even patients who consider themselves proficient at managing their medicines engage in unsafe practices, new findings reveal

A consumer perception survey of Australian Patients Association members found that half admitted to not completing their prescription as directed by their health professional – and 38% said they do not check if their medicines have expired before taking them.

Despite these findings, 93% of respondents agreed that not taking medicines as directed could cause harm, while 90% said they were confident that they took medication correctly as prescribed at all times.

The Australian Patients Association says these findings reveal a “perception gap,” where people who believe they are complying correctly with their medicines are still engaging in risky practices around them.

The survey of 155 Australian Patients Association members found 78% of respondents were taking two or more medications with the most common reasons being to manage chronic disease (42%) or to control pain (18%).

The respondents indicated a high level of interest in their healthcare: 85% said they were easily able to source reliable information on taking their medication, and 81% had recently completed a review of their medicines with a GP or pharmacist in the last six months.

National Strategy Director of the Australian Patients Association, Michael Riley, says the findings emphasise the needs for greater education to prescription medication consumers.

“The survey data shows that mistakes and misuse occur even among people who are highly invested in their healthcare and go to great efforts to follow their prescription medication advice by the letter,” he says.

“Seemingly harmless behaviours can have very serious consequences. It underlines the complexity of medication compliance and the need for continued consumer education on medication use and risks of misuse.”

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s National Drug Strategy Household survey of 2016 found that 2.5 million (or 12.8%) people in Australia misused a pharmaceutical drug at some point in their lifetime, with just under one in 20 (4.8%) Australians having misused a pharmaceutical drug in the last 12 months.

The Association held a forum over the weekend to explore appropriate use of prescription medications, discuss pain management and how patients, the pharmaceutical industry, doctors and pharmacists can work together to educate the public on the appropriate use of medications and harm prevention strategies

One of the speakers at the forum, Pharmacy Guild Victorian branch president Anthony Tassone, advised consumers to check the expiry dates on medicines.

He pointed out that it is common for patients to keep medicines after an original course of treatment has ended.

“An expired medicine may not work as well and can cause adverse effects,” Mr Tassone says.

“Pharmacies offer safe disposal of unwanted medicines which can reduce risks around this area of medicine misuse”.

Previous Should ‘bad’ cholesterol be lowered further?
Next How clean is your desk? The unwelcome reality of office hygiene

NOTICE: It can sometimes take awhile for comment submissions to go through, please be patient.


  1. Greg Kyle

    Sometimes the “non-compliance” is actually the best thing for the patient. I disagree with the assumption that “as prescribed” is the correct or best way to take any medication. If a patient is not taking their medication “as prescribed” it should be used as an opening into a conversation about why. Determining why is the most important thing to determine a consequent course of action – possibly acting as a patient advocate or suggesting a second opinion if their prescriber does not listen to their concerns!
    Do I always take my medications “as prescribed”? No
    Do I always discuss this with the prescriber? No
    Does this make me a ‘bad’ patient or person? Some would argue yes!!

    It seems to me that the people who continually promote non-compliance as “bad” are the same groups or people (companies) that benefit financially from increased medication use … just an observation.

  2. Daniel Hackett

    We were told by doctors to always finish a course of antibiotics, which it turns out is not based on science. It is guesswork. It may actually be harmful. You have to wonder what else is guesswork. Following doctor’s orders blindly is a risky practice. Drug companies and doctors misuse drugs when they use them “off label”. You always need to use your common sense.

    • Jarrod McMaugh

      A couple of responses because I agree with some of your points but not all.

      “Finish the course’ – this is actually very critical advice and should always be adhered to…….. so long as the prescriber is writing the course for the intended period of time and not basing their prescription on commercially available pack sizes.

      “Off Label” isn’t misuse in most circumstances (although it can be).

      Following a doctor’s orders blindly should never ever happen, especially true when applied to health professionals operating under a request from a doctor.

    • Debbie Rigby

      Off-label use of medicines is not necessarily misuse. This use may be supported by high quality evidence; the sponsor may not have applied to regulatory bodies for registration for this use.

  3. chung Liauw

    Perhaps it’s more about the pharmacist knowing if the patient has taken or not taking the prescribed medication in a in realtime. Thus allowing us provide the appropriate professional advice as required. Fulfilling our role in the safe delivery of medicines in the community.

    • Debbie Rigby

      Real-time monitoring of administration is certainly a way of identifying non-adherence, which may be intentional or forgetful/non-intentional.

  4. Debbie Rigby

    Intentional non-adherence may be a signal for adverse reactions or lack of efficacy. It may also indicate that the patient’s concerns on the efficacy or side effects outweigh their understanding of the benefits (necessity for taking the drug). Both scenarios are an opportunity for pharmacist interventions

  5. Debbie Rigby

    finishing the course of antibiotics could actually be making the problem of antibiotic resistance worse

Leave a reply