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By Gale Burstein and Richard Vienne

Google the term “medication adherence” and you’ll get about 2.7 million hits, which tells you it’s a hot health care topic. Simply stated, it means taking your prescriptions as directed by your health care provider.

Univera Healthcare, with a strong endorsement from the Erie County Department of Health, has launched a community engagement campaign to promote medication adherence as a way to help promote health among people with chronic disease and protect against deteriorating health conditions, hospitalizations and even deaths that can result when prescription medications are not taken as directed.

According to the American Heart Association, poor medication adherence takes 125,000 American lives annually and costs the health care system nearly $300 billion a year in additional doctor and emergency department visits and hospitalizations.

The centerpiece of Univera’s effort is a stylized prescription bottle called TAD, for “Take As Directed,” adorned with a superhero cape and utility belt. It conveys a simple message: “If you’re not taking your prescriptions as directed, you’re taking a chance.”

Prescription drugs, like superheroes, have superpowers to protect the public, but only when used properly.

When medications are taken as directed, health outcomes are improved, chronic conditions are managed, health care dollars are used efficiently and lives are saved.

This should be obvious, especially to those living with high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes. Unfortunately, 50 percent of people with chronic conditions discontinue their meds within six months.

There are a variety of reasons why people don’t take their medication as directed. For some, it’s the price. Generics or lower cost brands could be an option. For others, it might be difficulty in getting to the pharmacy for refills. There, a mail order pharmacy could help.

Some people avoid taking their medications because they don’t like the side effects, or they feel fine without taking them. Many simply forget, especially if they are taking multiple medications on varying schedules.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about half of the U.S. population and 90 percent of adults age 60 and older used at least one prescription drug during the past month. The number of people using five or more prescription drugs increased by 70 percent over the past decade.

The World Health Organization says that getting more patients to take their medications as directed may have a far greater impact on the health of the population than any improvement in specific medical treatments. We agree.

Gale R. Burstein, M.D., is Erie County commissioner of health. Richard Vienne, D.O., is chief medical officer of Univera Healthcare.