Peoria has a different drug problem

DeWayne Bartels

The Greater Peoria Area has a drug problem.

“Duh,” one might say. But, this drug problem is not one played out on street corners.

This drug problem revolves around people not taking enough of a certain type of drugs — namely generics.

In the Greater Peoria Area today only 68 percent of the prescriptions filled are done so with generic drugs. That has to change to benefit both patients and employers, according to Dr. Gail Amundson, CEO of Quality Quest for Health.

The quest begins

In January 2007, Caterpillar Inc. and OSF Saint Francis Medical Center embarked on an alliance to create a better health care delivery system in the Greater Peoria Area, and Quality Quest for Health was born.

Today, between 150 and 200 local residents are involved with the effort to make the area healthier, according to Amundson.

“We want to transform health care,” Amundson said, last week.

The effort behind Quality Quest for Health has largely been conducted behind the scenes.

But, last week, the effort began to take a higher profile because the public has to get involved to make a significant impact, Amundson said.

Transforming health care, Amundson said, is a job done in pieces, and one of those pieces, she said, is prescription drugs.

Amundson is overseeing a local effort to get local health care professionals to prescribe more generic drugs.

A year ago, the people involved with Quality Quest began tracking the drugs prescribed to Caterpillar and OSF employees.

They found in the third quarter of ’07, the generic prescription rate was 65.1 percent.

The information was shared with health professionals locally.

As that information was distributed, the generic use rate began to rise, but it has been slow going.

In the fourth quarter of ’07, the rate had risen to 65.5 percent.

In the first quarter of ’08, the rate sat at 65.9 percent.

In the second quarter of ’08, the tracking of prescriptions showed of the 402,154 prescriptions represented in the report, 275,350 were for generics, making the rate 68.5 percent. 

By 2010, Amundson wants to see that figure rise to 80 percent. It is a lofty goal, but achievable, she says.

“If you think about high value health care, generics have a place in that,” she said.

Generic drugs, she said, are cheaper, and, therefore, patients are more likely to stay on their medication. That, she said, will lead to a healthier community.

“We can get to our goal,” Amundson said. “But it might be hard work.”

The quest continues

Amundson said 68.5 percent is not a bad number.

“But, it’s also not a distinguished number,” she said.

“Some parts of the country exceed 80 percent. Between 68 percent and 80 percent, there is a lot of affordability being lost. Generics are a good deal all around. We have millions of dollars going out of the area for drugs.”

Generics have a long history of safety, Amundson said.

“Now, though, we have intense marketing of prescription drugs and it is effective,” she said.

That is exactly why Amundson said this effort is going public.

“This isn’t talked about a lot,” she said. “We need to change that. There is a need to change minds among both doctors and the public. I don’t know, yet, which will be a bigger job.”

Amundson said part of the problem is free drug samples doctors receive from drug company sales representatives. She said those free samples cost everyone.

“We have to dispel the belief that free samples are free,” Amundson said. “We will be talking to doctors about the data we have on this. We have to battle this perception.”