October has been observed as Talk About Your Medicines Month (TAYMM) for over 35 years. Started by the BeMedWise Program at NeedyMeds, the awareness month is an annual opportunity to spotlight safe medicine use with the goal of improved health outcomes. This year’s theme is Understanding Medicine Labels – Making sense of your meds. Confusion about when and how much of a medicine can take can make treatments less effective, cause serious side effects or drug interactions, and negatively affect adherence. Our goal is to empower patients to maximize the benefits while minimizing the risks of the medications they are taking, and provide the tools they need to talk about their medicines.

When you are prescribed a drug, it’s important to carefully read the label and any other material given by the doctor or pharmacist to understand it to ensure your safety. All prescription medicine

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NeedyMeds was started in 1997 when a family physician and a medical social worker realized there were dozens of pharmaceutical patient assistance programs available, providing medications to those in need at low- or no-cost, but no centralized resource for the information.  We became that resource, using the relatively new (at the time) Internet as the perfect medium for the constantly changing information. Despite growing significantly since our inception, we still have an expanding database of Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs) to help those unable to cover the costs of prescriptions.

Patient assistance programs are typically funded by pharmaceutical companies to help uninsured and underinsured patients get their medication for free or low-cost. There are no regulations or laws dictating that pharmaceutical companies must provide PAPs, so the eligibility requirements often vary from program to program. Most require personal information (full name, address, date of birth, social security number), information from your doctor, and a valid prescription. Some PAPs require information on insurance

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There has been a lot in the news lately about aducanumab (Aduhelm), a new monoclonal antibody treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. 

Alzheimer’s disease is a neurological disease and is the most common cause of dementia. It causes destructive, progressive, and irreversible changes in the brain. A common feature is the accumulation of a protein called amyloid-β in the form of plaques and tau tangles. Both are thought to cause cell death, but they have not yet been shown to be the cause of Alzheimer’s disease.

Aducanumab (Aduhelm), a drug that reduces amyloid-β plaques, was approved by the FDA on June 7, 2021 for treatment of all stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The approval was quite controversial for several reasons.

  • Many experts are concerned that accelerated approval of aducanumab without convincing evidence is premature, especially since it was only tested on those with early Alzheimer’s disease but was approved for all stages. In fact, there is no evidence at all that aducanumab is effective in patients with advanced Alzheimer’s disease.
  • The government is now looking at the issue since Alzheimer’s disease primarily occurs in seniors and Medicare will be picking up most of the tab for a medication that may have little benefit.
  • The Boston Globe reported unofficial meetings between the manufacturer and an FDA director that may have influenced the decision. 

The reason for the controversy can be confusing, so I will try and explain the different sides of the issue to help you understand what the fuss is about. There are basically three perspectives to consider when breaking down this issue.

  1. Those who believe there was not enough good evidence that aducanumab improves patients with Alzheimer’s disease to approve the drug, especially for use in those with advanced disease.
  2. Those who feel that the fact that there are no other available treatments justifies the use of aducanumab without convincing evidence and despite the known side-effects.
  3. Those who are concerned that the healthcare system cannot afford the $58,000 yearly cost of medication, along with the cost of brain-imaging tests, infusions, and provider visits, especially if the benefits are only subtle.

The Evidence

Basing medical treatments on solid evidence is of major importance to healthcare providers. There are too many examples of unhelpful

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October has been observed as Talk About Your Medicines Month (TAYMM) for 35 years. Started by the BeMedWise Program at NeedyMeds (formerly known as the National Council on Patient Information [NCPIE]), the awareness month is an annual opportunity to spotlight safe medicine use with the goal of improved health outcomes. This year’s theme is Medication Adherence – On Track With Your Meds and Your Health. Medication adherence is a vital part of maintaining your health. Our goal is to empower patients to maximize the benefits while minimizing the risks of the medications they are taking, and provide the tools they need to talk about their medicines.

Medication adherence has been called America’s “other drug problem.” Nonadherence can lead to illness progression, severe complications, and preventable deaths. Nonadherence includes anything from delaying or not filling a prescription, skipping doses, splitting pills, to stopping a medication early. Not taking medication as directed can lead to poor health outcomes which then increases healthcare service utilization and overall healthcare costs.

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Anyone looking to save on medication costs, and that is probably you if you are reading this article, has seen the same methods listed in article after article. They include shopping around for the best price, switching to generics, splitting pills, applying to assistance programs, using a drug discount card or copay cards, etc. 

I’ll explain some different ways to save you may not have seen before. They may be a little more complex than the methods listed above – and may require some conversations with your prescriber or pharmacist. In addition to the cost savings these methods will provide, they will also give you better understanding of your treatments and the medicines you take.

1. Treating the Symptom or Treating the Cause

When you are sick and feeling miserable, you want one thing – to feel better. Your healthcare provider may give you a medicine that lessens your symptoms – called symptomatic treatment. Examples include an antihistamine or a decongestant which may help with the runny or congested nose of a cold, an anti-diarrheal medicine may help with the runs associated with a stomach bug or an anti-itch medicine

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