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Sophia Majlessi
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Why Medication Matters: National Council for Mental Wellbeing’s Medical Director Institute’s Call to Action

WASHINGTON, D.C. (September 19, 2018) – One in six Americans – approximately 54.3 million individuals – take a psychiatric drug. On average, half of all people on any medication do not take it as prescribed.

The human toll is devastating.

Half of the individuals who are sick and suffering enough to be prescribed medication are not getting it, resulting in more emergency room visits, hospital admissions and disability. Not taking prescribed medications is common, frequently undiagnosed, unaddressed and a major cause of poor treatment outcomes.

The monetary toll is staggering.

Prescription drugs account for 10 percent of overall health spending in the United States, totaling $328 billion annually, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. With up to 50 percent of medications not taken as prescribed, billions of dollars are wasted on pharmaceuticals every year. To address these challenges, the National Council for Mental Wellbeing’s Medical Director Institute has just today released “Medication Matters: Causes and Solutions to Medication Non-Adherence.”

The report is a call to action to ensure that all Americans get comprehensive care. “If a substantial portion of the solutions in this report were implemented by 2025, an additional 25 percent of patients would see the value in taking medication as prescribed and we could avoid millions of dollars in medication paid for, but not used. In addition, we could save $2 billion annually in avoided hospital costs and see improved health nationwide,” stated Joe Parks, M.D., medical director at the National Council and founder of the Institute.

While there are no simple responses to this multifaceted issue, there are solutions that can guide providers, family members, payers and advocates as we begin to close this gap. These include:

  • Ensuring patient-centered care. Patients must have access to the full continuum of mental and physical health care and be empowered to play an active role in their treatment and recovery. Providers can engage patients in shared decision-making around the decision to take medication and which medications to take. Family members can support discussions and decisions. And payers can remove restrictions that limit access to programs that give choice and minimize out-of-pocket costs.
  • Improving the patient-doctor partnership. Providers must work together with patients in a relationship of mutual respect and shared decision-making. A strong provider-patient relationship is the cornerstone of effective care.
  • Engaging the whole team. Family members can be critical team members, along with expanded use of recovery coaches, peer supports and staff that represent the cultures of the population the provider serves. Family members can understand the role of medication in the recovery process and offer practical support and reminders. Pharmacists are also an invaluable and underused resource in team-oriented care.
  • Simplify, simplify, simplify. Keeping track of multiple medications that are taken at different times is overwhelming. Streamlined treatment and memory enhancers like bubble packaging or pillboxes can help. Monthly or weekly injections are available for some conditions and can mean a quicker path to recovery.
  • Embracing technology. There is an ever-expanding role for technology through compatible devices, pill implants, reminder alarms and other apps.

National Council President and CEO Linda Rosenberg said, “Not taking medication as prescribed limits the effectiveness of treatment, but it’s a complex problem that requires listening, educating and supporting patients and caregivers. For these reasons, the National Council board tasked the Medical Director Institute with developing this report.”

She continued, “We must help people understand the benefits and risks of the medications they are prescribed so they can make informed decisions. We all want a comfortable, safe and simple regimen for our specific needs.”

The expert panel was led by Patrick Runnels, M.D., medical director at The Centers for Families and Children and co-chair of the Institute; Jeffrey Lieberman, M.D., chair, Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University; and Paula Panzer, M.D., chief clinical and medical officer, The Jewish Board.


The Medical Director Institute brought together a diverse group of practitioners, administrators, policymakers, researchers, educators, advocates, payers, patients and family members to ensure a discussion from a variety of viewpoints. Each provided literature and research from their area of expertise. Their recommendations for action are concrete, specific and actionable. The report can be accessed here.


About the Medical Director Institute

The Medical Director Institute advises the National Council for Mental Wellbeing board, staff and membership on issues and topics heavily impacted by clinical practice and provide longer-term guidance through a series of technical papers. The Medical Director Institute is primarily composed of medical directors from National Council member organizations. The full roster can be found at

About the National Council for Mental Wellbeing

The National Council for Mental Wellbeing is the unifying voice of America’s health care organizations that deliver mental health and addictions treatment and services. Together with our 2,900 member organizations serving over 10 million adults, children and families living with mental illnesses and addictions, the National Council is committed to all Americans having access to comprehensive, high-quality care that affords every opportunity for recovery. The National Council introduced Mental Health First Aid USA and more than 1 million Americans have been trained. For more information, please visit