Koreans throw away about 218 billion won ($194 million) worth of medicines a year, according to the Health Insurance Review and Assessment Service (HIRA).
HIRA has recently published a report estimating discarded medicine in the nation for the first time, under the title of “Study on the size, cost and factor analysis of wasted medicines.”
Despite the importance of reducing the waste of medicines, details on discarded drugs in Korea have been insufficient, the agency said. This study is significant as it is the first one to provide concrete information on the size and cost of medicines thrown away in Korea, it noted.
According to the analysis, the total amount of wasted medical supplies defined as unused for the previous prescription (same ingredient) in December 2016 alone was 12.8 billion won by a total of 1.3 million patients.
Specifically, in the same month, the Drug Utilization Review (DUR) system showed that for internal medicine the overlapping prescription rate stood at 97.91 percent. DUR defines an overlapping period if the patient visits the medical institution and receives a prescription for a component that has the same first four digits.
The share of prescriptions issued in December was 10.1 percent, and the share of monthly prescription drug costs was 9.3 percent.
Based on the share of monthly prescription drug, the researchers estimated that the total amount of wastage defined as unused last year was 138.2 billion won.
The agency used 10 diseases -- cold, hypertension, tooth disease, muscle pain or joint spinal disease, diabetes, heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, gastrointestinal disease (digestive system), skin and kidney disease – for the survey while asking patients to specify other diseases.
Of the 1484 respondents who completed the questionnaire, 589 (39.7 percent) responded that they had not taken their treatment, while 895 (60.3 percent) answered that they had taken all their prescription.
The unused prescription rate for those who did not take their prescription was 56.4 percent.
The team concluded that the wasted amount of medicines was estimated to be 97 billion won for acute diseases, and 120.8 billion won of chronic illnesses, which resulted in a total of 218 billion won.
The amount is equivalent to 3.1 percent of the cost of prescription drugs of 6.9 trillion won in 2016, including wasted drugs, and 1.8 percent of total outpatient prescription costs during that same time.
“We have confirmed that the scale of pharmaceutical waste that is being wasted in Korea is substantial,” the agency said. "There is a need for strategies to reduce waste for drugs treating acute and chronic diseases and strengthen communication between providers and patients.”
HIRA also suggested policy measures to reduce wasted medicines using the current medical system, including the cost adjustment for patient medicines, the improvement, and utilization of prescription and dispensing subsidies, and the active use of DUR.
<© Korea Biomedical Review, All rights reserved.>