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Commentary: Marylanders have a right to medication information

A Publix Super Markets pharmacy manager retrieves a medication in Miami. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

By Ryan Warner

The writer is a Maryland resident and the former mayor of Manchester.

When picking up prescription medication, you’ve probably noticed the printed handout that’s attached to it that includes details about the drug. These handouts, called patient medication information (PMI), are a critical resource to ensure patients have the necessary information to understand how to properly take their medication. This information is especially important for patients who take multiple drugs and have complicated medication plans.

However, America has a PMI problem. There is currently no requirement for PMI to be presented in a standardized, easily understood format. This means many patients are met with a confusing and nearly illegible paper that puts them at risk of missing important directions for use. This ultimately puts people’s health in danger.

America suffers exceptionally high rates of medication non-adherence, causing nearly 130,000 deaths and costing upwards of $300 billion annually. In fact, 1 in every 10 hospitalized patients are admitted because of an adverse drug event or because they took their prescribed medication incorrectly. As such, it is imperative to provide patients with accessible information to decrease the rates of adverse consequences when using prescribed medications.

Astonishingly, rather than working to make PMI more accessible for patients, the pharmaceutical industry is trying to place it even further out of reach. In an effort to cut costs, pharmaceutical companies are lobbying to shift the cost of printing PMI onto community pharmacies or to discontinue printing altogether by digitizing PMI. This would deny PMI to communities without printing-friendly pharmacies or reliable internet access. And the pharma lobby may prevail.

Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering a rule that would make e-labeling an option for PMI. Although this rule is well-intentioned, the unintended consequences of this are grave. This rule would either force busy pharmacies to print PMI themselves or put critical medication information behind a QR code. Completely digitizing the PMI would limit access for patients who lack a smartphone and/or reliable internet access, such as elderly or rural patients.

Here in Maryland, we know the hard work and dedication of those who work at the FDA, but sometimes, we need our elected representatives in Congress to ensure that these unintended consequences don’t come to fruition. Thankfully, Rep. David Trone (D-6th) co-sponsored the Patients’ Right to Know Their Medication Act, originally introduced by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-2nd). I commend Maryland’s lawmakers for their courage in defending the rights of Marylanders and all Americans.

The Patients’ Right to Know Their Medication Act would require drug manufacturers to produce and supply to pharmacies for dispensing, a one-page, printed, standardized PMI with FDA-approved content in a cognitively accessible, patient-tested format with all outpatient prescription drugs. This bill would ensure that all patients can easily view and understand what’s in their medication, how to take it, and its potential side effects, among other key facts. Most importantly, it will help prevent medication non-adherence that claims far too many lives.

In America, every citizen stands equally before the law. Right now, special interests are attempting to deprive certain citizens of their right to easily access their medication information, which would put the lives of Americans at risk. I hope Congress will pass this bill as swiftly as possible.

The Patient’s Right to Know Their Medication Act involves more than just a piece of paper. It is about safety, health, and justice.


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Commentary: Marylanders have a right to medication information