The growth of self-administered medications

Doctors have handed off medical treatments to their patients for decades. Americans are familiar with many of them, especially self-administered drugs. We take pills to relieve pain, use nasal sprays to control allergies, apply patches to quit smoking, and inject insulin to treat diabetes. And the trend is picking up speed. Total global spending on medicines will surpass $1 trillion in 2014 and reach nearly $1.2 trillion in 2017, according to the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics.

Self-administered injectables in particular are growing more prevalent. These pre-filled devices contain cartridges or syringes, and allow patients to easily select their dosage and accurately administer medication with minimal preparation or clean up. Most self-administered injectables treat emergency conditions, such allergies, or chronic illnesses like diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

The growth in self-administered injectables can be attributed to a number of factors, including the rising incidence of chronic diseases, sweeping medical costs, and glass and polymer technology that safely puts treatments in patients’ hands. Here’s what’s driving easier and more convenient injectables.

Increase in chronic diseases

Chronic diseases have been on the rise for decades and are the leading cause of death and disability in the U.S. Cases of Type 1 diabetes among children under 5, for example, surged 70 percent from 1985 to 2004. Rheumatoid arthritis incidences in women rose 2.5 percent per year from 1995 to 2007.

These diseases require frequent treatments. A patient with diabetes might need insulin injections 90 to 100 times per month. Neither doctors nor patients have time for that many visits, which is why diabetics have long administered their own treatments at home. More recently, pharmaceutical manufacturers have created a biological self-injectable to reduce the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Now, instead of hospital visits every other week, patients can administer the medicine themselves, as well as use it as needed. Advances in how injections are administered have driven further adoption of this type of medication. And as chronic diseases affect more Americans, self-administered injectables offer a more convenient alternative to the doctor’s office, allowing patients to manage their condition from the comfort of their own homes.

Rising cost of health care

From 2008 to 2012, health care costs for a family of four rose by more than $5,000, keeping affordable health care top of mind among Americans, and leading patients and practitioners alike to seek cost-cutting solutions. Meanwhile, with the $716 billion cut to Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act specifically targeting practitioners, hospitals are struggling to cut expenses without hindering patient care.

So it’s no surprise that pharmaceutical companies and practitioners are increasingly turning to self-administered applications to reduce costs. By prescribing medicines patients can administer at home, hospitals reduce the number of patient visits, save practitioners time, and in turn, save on health care costs.

Accessibility and ease of use

As doctors put treatments in the hands of the general public, the opportunity for error increases exponentially. But the growth in self-administered medications is due in part to manufacturers’ ability to simplify the delivery mechanism.

Self-administered injectables have reduced the diameter of the needle and often mask the needle completely until the injection is delivered. They’ve taken the guesswork out of dosages by offering a simple dial that patients turn to determine the amount injected. Today’s injectables come in ergonomic packaging that allows arthritic patients to administer their own treatments despite finger joint pain, for example. Self-administered injectables have risen to the challenge of widespread chronic disease to provide a more user-friendly and safe device that supports a wider range of patients.

Safe materials

As self-administered drugs continue to flood the market, the FDA has made patient safety the number one priority among practitioners, pharmaceutical companies, and pharmaceutical packaging manufacturers. And how the medicine is delivered is only half the equation. The other half is how that medicine is stored before it’s used. As a result, glass has been integral to the growth of pharmaceutical products due to its cleanliness, transparency, light protection, heat resistance, impermeability, chemical stability, and safety.

For example, emergency self-administered medications, such as EpiPens, often lie in wait in purses and backpacks until needed. The cartridges and syringes inside must retain their chemical stability over extended periods of time to ensure safe use at any moment. Glass minimizes the potential for extractables and leachables, and prevents oxygen and moisture from interacting with medications.

Biopharmaceutical drugs in particular are comprised of extremely sensitive and highly reactive proteins that require special packaging. Glass packaging is one of the materials durable enough to house biological drugs without chemical breakdown or harmful packaging-pharmaceutical interactions.

In every case of self-administered medicine, the packaging is key. As long as patients follow their doctors’ instructions, a pill, a spray bottle, and a patch are practically foolproof. With the help of glass and other technologies, injectable medicines are just as safe and easy-to-use. They cut costs for health care practitioners, improve convenience for patients, and offer simpler and faster delivery of medicine.

(2 Posts)

Hi there. I’m Tony Perry, Regional Quality Director for SCHOTT North America. My responsibilities include assessing and managing the quality of North American pharmaceutical packaging production to ensure that all plants are aligned with the SCHOTT standard quality processes. I also collaborate with customers by providing glass and glass defect training, reviewing customer processes, and advising on handling or processing procedures. I have more than 20 years of experience in the manufacturing industry, and prior to joining SCHOTT I worked at GlaxoSmithKline. In my spare time, I enjoy running, skiing, and playing badminton and soccer.

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