Half of Americans Can’t Name Their Meds: Are We Overdosing in the Dark?

Close to half of all Americans now take prescription medication. However, a startling fact has emerged: nearly 50% of those people can’t even name a single one of their medications. These results came from a study conducted at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, where researchers examined patients taking antihypertensive drugs in three community health centers. If that statistic wasn’t bad enough, the researchers found that the inability to name medications increased to 65% among patients with low health literacy.

Lead author Stephen Persell, M.D., said the findings were “worse than expected” and highlighted a significant communication issue between doctors and patients. When patients can’t accurately name their medications, doctors can’t rely on them to provide information about the drugs they are taking for chronic conditions like hypertension, which makes it more difficult to determine the truth about which medications the patient is using.

Even examining a patient’s medical records doesn’t paint the whole picture. Persell explained that some patients continue to fill old prescriptions even if a doctor has changed the dosages or the medication and that he’s seen patients who continue using drugs they were told to discontinue and stop taking ones they were never told to stop using.

The Dangers of Medication Mismanagement

When patients aren’t aware of the medications they are taking or don’t fully understand their prescriptions, it presents an array of potential health risks:


A patient taking multiple medications might accidentally take more than the recommended dose of one because they are unaware of their prescriptions. This could be life-threatening and lead to an overdose.

Negative interactions with other medications

Taking multiple prescription drugs increases the risk of drug interactions, some of which can be harmful or cause adverse side effects.

Unintended side effects

Without knowing which medications they are taking, patients might struggle to identify specific side effects that could be caused by a specific drug.

Decreased efficacy of medications

If a patient isn’t taking the correct dosage or combination of medications, it can lead to reduced efficacy.

Increased healthcare costs

When patients don’t follow their prescribed medication regimen, they might require additional doctor visits, tests, or treatments, ultimately driving up healthcare costs.

How to Improve Medication Awareness and Management

To combat these risks, it’s crucial for patients to take charge of their medication management. Here are some steps you can take to ensure you’re informed and in control of your medications:

Keep an up-to-date medication list

Create a comprehensive list of all your medications, including over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, and supplements. Update this list regularly and bring it to every doctor’s appointment so your healthcare team can have an accurate and current understanding of what you’re taking.

Understand your medications

Don’t leave the doctor’s office or pharmacy until you fully understand your medication: the purpose, dosage, potential side effects, and any necessary precautions or restrictions.

Use a pill organizer or medication reminder app

A pill organizer can help you keep track of your medications, while a medication reminder app can send you alerts when it’s time to take them.

Coordinate with your healthcare team

Work closely with your healthcare providers to address any concerns, discuss possible interactions, and ensure you’re taking your medications as prescribed.

Ask questions

If you’re unsure about your medication instructions, don’t hesitate to check with your doctor, pharmacist, or another healthcare provider.

Attend regular check-ups

Schedule regular visits with your doctor to discuss your medication needs and any adjustments that might need to be made. Bring your updated medication list to these appointments to help guide the conversation.

Closing Thoughts

The unsettling truth that many patients don’t know the medications they’re taking poses serious risks for both their health and the healthcare system at large. Commit to improving your medication awareness and management by following the tips shared in this article, and open up an honest and informed conversation with your healthcare team. Your health, well-being, and safety depend on it.