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Publication Briefs

Excess Medication Supply Potentially High among Veterans Using VA Healthcare

Medication excess and oversupply can result from therapeutic duplications. Prescriptions may get duplicated for several reasons, some of which may be intentional or rational (i.e., two different formulations of the same drug); however, unintentional therapeutic duplications may lead to potentially unsafe situations and may reflect inefficient use of limited healthcare resources (i.e., patients' possession of excess medication). This retrospective study sought to determine the prevalence of potential medication excess in the VA healthcare system – and to identify associated medication-, patient-, and system-level factors. Using VA data, investigators identified 4,687,453 Veterans who received one or more prescription medications dispensed by a VA pharmacy in FY2014. The primary outcome of "medication excess" was defined for each patient as the number of excess days' worth of medications for all overlap episodes – concurrently dispensed medications with the same name for >10 days. Investigators also determined the frequency with which prescriptions were supplied by a VA-based Consolidated Mail Outpatient Pharmacy (CMOP) as compared to the local VA facility, as well as those supplied for >90 days. Additional covariates that were assessed included co-pay status, patient demographics and medical comorbidities, as well as VA healthcare utilization.


  • Medication excess was high among VA healthcare users in this study, with nearly two-thirds of patients (64%) experiencing at least one duplicative medication. Medication excess was more likely for Veterans with multiple prescribing providers or with higher comorbidity scores. Conversely, having a co-pay for medications was associated with lower rates of medication excess [a majority of patients (69%) did not have a co-pay].
  • Patients that had a combination of filling locations (CMOP or local pharmacy) and/or durations supplied had higher medication excess than those who had prescriptions from a single location or with uniform durations.


  • As systems such as mail-order pharmacies and 90-day supply are increasingly implemented to reduce costs and improve medication adherence, it is important to recognize the potential for systems-level inefficiencies and inappropriate prescribing. Further efforts should be made to develop and implement strategies and systems (i.e., synchronized dispensing – refilling all prescriptions at the same time) that foster the appropriate and safe use of medications.


  • Investigators were unable to determine whether Veterans took the extra medications rather than saved them for future need; however, having the excess supply available still exposes them to the potential of a medication overdose and harm.

Dr. Linsky was supported by an HSR&D Career Development Award. Drs. Linsky, Simon, and Rosen, and Ms. Stolzmann are part of HSR&D’s Center for Healthcare Organization and Implementation Research (CHOIR), Boston, MA

PubMed Logo Linsky A, Stolzmann K, Simon S, Cabral H, and Rosen A. Patient Possession of Excess Medication Supply in the VA: A Retrospective Database Study. Medical Care. November 2019;57(11):898-904.

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What are HSR Publication Briefs?

HSR requires notification by HSR-funded investigators about all articles accepted for publication. These journal articles are reviewed by HSR and publication briefs or summaries are written for a select number of articles that are then forwarded to VHA Central Office leadership to keep them informed about important findings or information. Articles to be summarized are selected by HSR based on timeliness of the findings, interest of leadership, or potential impact on the organization. Publication briefs are written for only a small number of HSR published articles. Visit the HSR citations database for a complete listing of HSR articles and presentations.

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