The quantity of medicinal products that are thrown away is a recurring topic of discussion, as are calls for the pharmaceutical industry to produce smaller packs. However, there is a fundamental misunderstanding underlying this issue. The main reason why medicines are thrown away is lack of adherence to therapy and not the size of packs that medicines are sold in.
Authorities require packs appropriate for therapy
The regulatory authority Swissmedic and the Federal Office of Public Health already require pharmaceutical manufacturers to supply medicines in small packs appropriate for therapy. Manufacturers need to register both large and small packs when requesting inclusion in the List of pharmaceutical specialities. The therapeutic success of long-term treatment can be monitored by using small packs of medicine. Other than that, it is primarily the responsibility of doctors and pharmacists to prescribe and dispense the size of pack appropriate for the patient. Larger packs are often more economical and generate lower costs in terms of medical care and invoicing.
Poor therapy adherence leads to high costs later on
The fact that medicines are not taken and are then thrown away is indeed a major problem. It is known that lack of adherence to therapy (non-compliance) causes major costs in the health system and to the economy. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), only around 50 percent of patients with chronic disorders who live in developed countries follow their doctor’s therapy recommendations. Since this often results in failure of the therapy, the subsequent costs are high, especially for avoidable hospitalisation and nursing care, additional consultations with doctors or emergency admissions.
Reducing the risk of mix-ups
Medicine packs are a major topic in the safety of medicines too. The risk that one medicinal product could be mistaken for another represents a safety problem. The cause of this confusion could be the product name, the labelling or design of the outer (secondary) packaging, or also the inner (primary) packaging. This can have serious consequences for dispensing and use. The pharmaceutical industry and the responsible partners in hospitals and in the outpatient setting are making an ongoing effort to find ways of eliminating the risk of mix-ups as far as possible in everyday clinical practice.