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1 in 3 Would Rather Die Early Than Take a Daily Pill

New research shows a third of people would trade years of their life to avoid taking daily meds

(Steve Kraitt/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

If you hate swallowing pills, you’re not alone—one study estimates that up to 40 percent of Americans have difficulty swallowing medicine. But would you give up years of your life to avoid having to take pills? New research shows that one in three people would prefer a shorter life to a regimen that involved taking a pill a day.

Eager to learn more about the perceived utility of daily pills, a team of researchers conducted an Internet-based study of 1,000 Americans with a mean age of 50. They asked the participants how they felt about taking a daily pill that would prevent cardiovascular disease—and how much of their life they would give up in order not to have to take a pill every day. Though about 70 percent of participants said they wouldn’t trade a moment to avoid taking a pill, 21 percent said they’d trade anywhere from a week to a year of their lives. And more than 8 percent surveyed said that they would trade as many as two years of their lives to avoid taking a daily pill.

Though the researchers did tell participants that the hypothetical pills wouldn’t cost any money or cause any side effects, they admit they aren’t sure if such considerations skewed the study. When they asked respondents if they’d rather pay money to avoid taking a pill, 43 said they wouldn’t pay any amount. And though he emphasizes that the study was merely hypothetical, study lead Robert Hutchins said in a statement that it shows that pills can impact an individual’s quality of life.

Even ignoring the side-effects of pills, the act of having to take a daily pill can have a large effect on an individual’s quality of life. When you consider that many adults are on numerous pills, the effect is often magnified for that person. On a population level, even for the small reductions in quality of life like those found in this study, that effect multiplied across millions of people can have very large effects on the cost-effectiveness of that drug for a population.

Though the study seems to point to a problem with pills, it leaves behind several unanswered questions. Why were some willing to pay to avoid pills with money or even their lives? To what degree does the daily pill use of participants predict or impact their willingness to shorten their lives for fewer pills? And could better pill-taking techniques help solve the problem? Hutchins wishes he knew, too. “I would have really liked to have gotten to talk to those people…and find out what it was they thought was so bad about taking a pill daily,” he told LiveScience.

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