The Medication Literacy Project

The Frazier Polypharmacy & Medication Management Program (FP&MMP) of the University of Louisville Schools of Medicine and Public Health is unique among United States universities in its dedication to education, research, and outreach to help solve problems associated with polypharmacy.

The Medication Literacy Project, led by Dr. Demetra Antimisiaris“Dr. Dee”, was developed to bring awareness to the importance of medication education and medication literacy. With approximately 20,000 prescription and over 300,000 over-the-counter products available to consumers, understanding on how to use the medications we are taking has never been more critical. 

Each person should be able to predict, understand, recognize, and manage medication effects, side effects and risks for the medications they use. Polypharmacy (the use of multiple medications together, often associated with medication use risk) is usually associated with older persons, but today younger adults and children live with polypharmacy. Without medication literacy, it is difficult to use medications effectively and safely.

These facts indicate that medication literacy is an essential public health mission:

-- The FDA receives more than 100,000 reports each year associated with medication errors.
-- Adverse drug events (ADEs) account for more than 3.5 million doctor visits annually and 1 million emergency department visits.
-- ADEs caused by well-intended medication use (not substance abuse), are estimated to result in 275,689 deaths per year (in 2016, and today there’s more medications on the market than back then)
-- If the CDC counted well intended medication use ADEs as a top 10 cause of death in the US, it would rank as the 3rd leading cause of death by 2016 data.
-- ADEs cost $528.4 billion in 2016.
-- With $385 billion spent on prescription (Rx) and over-the-counter (OTC) medications; for every dollar spent it costs $1.37 to address the problems caused by medications.

With an average of 50 new prescriptions approved for market annually, and nearly 50% of the US population taking at least 1 prescription medication, the challenge of effective and safe medication use will continue. To make medication use effective and safe, it takes a community effort. Although clinical health providers play an important role in managing medication use, the only common factor is the person using the medications themselves. Clinical providers cannot monitor day to day medication response or monitor over the counter and supplement use. Therefore, population and societal approaches that empower people are especially important.

For students interested in population and societal approaches to effective and safe medication use, they can consider careers in public health, or healthcare professions with added public health training. Public Health approaches provide the skills to enable us to understand the population and societal impact and solutions associated with polypharmacy. Public Health approaches include epidemiology, biostatistics, environmental health, health management and system sciences, health policy, monitoring, and evaluation.

As an example of a public health approach to polypharmacy, consider the effect of the healthcare system on a patient getting discharged from the hospital with five new medications they’ve never used before. They are sent home with prescriptions, and they have to figure out, how to get them filled, how to take the new medications, how to ensure they are safe and effective. How does the healthcare system treat this situation? Is the patient on their own, or does the healthcare system send follow up help? How do system factors impact outcomes?

Due to the need for more public awareness regarding polypharmacy, and medication literacy, the Frazier Polypharmacy Program is launching a community engagement programs as well as a public health-based polypharmacy training. 

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