Patient care is more than filling a prescription on time. It’s also more than giving them an annual flu shot or COVID booster. Sometimes patient care has nothing to do with dispensing medications — sometimes it has to do with the exact opposite.

Medication misuse continues to be an integral part of patient care. Handling it requires compassionate yet firm leadership. It’s never an easy conversation to have with your patient, but it’s your responsibility as a healthcare professional.

It’s an uncomfortable side to patient care, but it might be the most important one. Here’s what you need to know about medication misuse and how you can treat it.

What is Medication Misuse? defines medication misuse as when “someone uses [medications] in ways that are not prescribed or directed.”

Medication misuse is often associated with controlled substances, such as prescription opiates and stimulants (such as Adderall and Vyvanse), leading to abuse and addiction. cites a 2019 SAMSHA study that observed how teens aged 12-18 get prescription medications. The study found that 36.8% of teens got their medications through a doctor, whereas 37.8% said they were given medications for free from a friend or relative.

This implies that medication misuse often starts at the home, leading to serious consequences.

The Consequences of Medication Misuse

In a way, the consequences of medication misuse are fairly self-explanatory. Medication misuse occurs when someone takes a medication they were never supposed to take. As such, the impact this rogue medication can have on the body will be substantial.

Some general side effects of medication misuse include:

  • Altered mental state
  • Vomiting
  • Rise or drop in blood pressure
  • Heart damage
  • Death in severe cases

On the pharmacy side, medication misuse will likely result in legal consequences. If a healthcare professional like a pharmacist or doctor is found responsible for contributing to medication misuse, they are subject to fines, prison time, and license termination.

How to Curb Medication Misuse

Now that we know what medication misuse is — along with the consequences — it’s time to create a plan of action. As an independent pharmacist, you and your staff have a direct relationship with your patients.

As a result, you can have a direct influence on helping prevent medication misuse. Here’s how you can handle and prevent medication misuse.

1. Implement a Patient Adherence Program

One of the biggest sources of medication misuse is leftover medication. A half-full bottle is usually the result of patients forgetting to take their medications, which is what patient adherence is all about.

Chances are your pharmacy software system has some sort of adherence feature. You can track how often your patients take their medications.

In the case of controlled substances (which is extremely relevant in this case), you can see how frequently your patients are filling these medications.

Some pharmacy software systems will raise red flags when a new fill request is too soon after the previous one. This will ensure you’re aware of any instances of medication misuse or abuse, especially if you happen to overlook them.

Have a pharmacy software system that will do some of the heavy lifting with certain tasks, letting you focus on the task at hand. Patient adherence is an effective and even non-accusatory way of preventing medication misuse.

2. Talk to the Patient’s Doctor

One of the best ways to prevent medication misuse is to have a direct conversation with either the patient themselves or their doctor.

A key task of a pharmacist is to ensure that the given prescription follows legal and ethical guidelines.

This isn’t to say you can outright accuse a doctor of abusing their patients. This is rarely the case, and making such accusations can result in another batch of legal consequences.

If you notice a pattern of how often your patients are being prescribed a certain controlled substance, it never hurts to call their doctor about it. It’s best to address the issue directly rather than acting on speculation.

Will the doctor be inconvenienced? Sure. But it will be a minor headache compared to an actual instance of medication misuse.

If anything, talking to a patient’s doctor about possible medication misuse can strengthen your relationship with them. They may appreciate how you’re taking extra steps in ensuring your patients are taking the right medications in the right way.

3. Talk with the Patient

You’ve done what you can. You promoted your patient adherence program, talked to the patient’s doctor, and did other things to help prevent medication misuse.

If all else fails, it’s time to have a hard — and likely uncomfortable — conversation with the patient.

First, let’s set the stage. If your independent pharmacy has it, take your patient to a private consultation room so others won’t overhear some highly sensitive information.

This will be the perfect time to use your pharmacy software’s consultation app, allowing you to pull up your patient’s records away from the pharmacy computer.

Raise your concern with the patient in a calm, kind way. It’s a potentially volatile situation, so put your best — and nicest — foot forward.

Educate your patient on the health and even legal consequences of medication misuse. In some instances, the best thing to do is to cut ties with the patient and refuse to fill any future prescriptions.

It’s an extreme measure, but it might be the best course after expending all other resources.


As we mentioned at the beginning, patient care can be more than filling a prescription on time. Sometimes it doesn’t involve any purchase at all. Patient care is all about ensuring your patients are on the right path toward a better and healthier self.

Some paths are bumpier than others, especially when it involves medication misuse. However, it is a necessary path to cross to ensure quality — and essential — patient care.