02/14/2018 08:11 EST | Updated 03/05/2018 11:21 EST

Canadians Spending Less On Food, Heat To Afford Prescription Drugs: Study

Nearly a million Canadians cut back on the necessities in 2016 to afford their medication.

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According to the findings, an estimated 1.7 million Canadians didn't fill their prescription because of cost.

MONTREAL — Nearly one million Canadians opted for emptier grocery bags and colder homes in order to pay for prescription drugs in 2016, suggests a nationwide study on the topic published Tuesday.

The review was conducted by researchers at the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, McMaster University, and the University of Toronto.

The study, published in the online version of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, indicated that 968,000 Canadians reduced their spending on basic necessities to pay for medication — with 730,000 cutting their food bills and another 238,000 skimping on heating.

According to the findings, an estimated 1.7 million Canadians — 8.2 per cent of those ordered to take medications in 2016 — didn't fill their prescription because of cost.

We tend to think that people in Quebec have better coverage for medicines than elsewhere in Canada.Michael Law, UBC

Michael Law, a UBC professor and Canada Research Chair in Access to Medicines, said that while it was already known that people had difficulty paying for prescription drugs, the analysis shows the extent to which people are eliminating necessities to purchase them.

Quebec had the lowest percentage of people (3.7 per cent) not filling a prescription due to the costs. The worst offender was British Columbia at 8.11 per cent, in particular due to the high cost of living and high deductibles for medications.

"We tend to think that people in Quebec have better coverage for medicines than elsewhere in Canada," said Law, the lead author of the study.

Drug-coverage improvements would lead to health-care savings

Another consequence of not taking medications is that many people in 2016 ended up in the emergency room (93,000) or consulted a doctor (300,000) — measures that increased health-care costs.

"It suggests that if you improve drug coverage, the cost to government is of course gonna be the cost of the drug, but you are gonna see some savings on the other end as people don't end up in hospitals and in the doctor's office," Law said.

Of those surveyed, young adults, low-income earners and those without drug coverage were more likely to have problems buying drugs as well as requiring additional care.

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Women in general also faced difficulties. They take more medication than men, such as contraceptives, which aren't covered by insurance plans, Law said. They also earn less money on average.

Of the medications that commonly weren't purchased for financial reasons, most were for depression, anxiety or other mental-health issues.

More than 28,000 people participated in the study, with data collected with assistance from Statistics Canada, as part of its Canadian Community Health Survey.

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