Collections > UNC Chapel Hill Undergraduate Honors Theses Collection > A Case of “Pill-takers”: Understanding Perceptions and Stigmas surrounding Medication Usage

BACKGROUND: Over half of all Americans take prescription medications regularly, and commentators have noted that modern society has become overly reliant on “pill-taking.” OBJECTIVES: The primary objective of this study was to better understand how healthy individuals’ perceive the identity of a “pill-taker,” using Phase I trial participants as a proxy for healthy individuals.METHODS: This was a mixed methods study that utilized qualitative and quantitative analysis. The data source was semi-structured interview transcripts and demographic data (n = 131) from the HealthyVOICES project, a 5-year study in the UNC Department of Social Medicine and Center for Bioethics. Two sets of interviews were investigated for each participant (n = 261), and participants were evaluated as “pill-takers,” “not-pill-takers,” or “ambivalent” based on their responses to questions about medications. Secondary coding was conducted on interview transcripts to reveal broader themes. Chi-square analyses were conducted to test the relationships between sociodemographic factors (age, race, socioeconomic status, and gender) and “pill-taking” status. RESULTS: Chi-square analysis revealed no statistically significant relationship between sociodemographic factors and “pill-taking” status. Qualitative analysis revealed four broad themes, particularly for not pill-takers and those who were ambivalent: (1) natural/herbal remedies are preferable alternatives to pill-taking; (2) pills are dangerous chemicals and harmful to the body; (3) healthy individuals can be ambivalent about medications; and (4) pill-taking is related to the flawed medication culture in the U.S. CONCLUSION: It is possible that pill-taking culture affects demographic groups equally, and that there are no significant relationships between sociodemographic characteristics and pill-taking status. The qualitative findings indicate that there are strong negative views of pill-taking among some healthy volunteers, which could have important implications for adherence to medication regimens. When studying healthy individuals in the future, it will be important to consider that these individuals may not have fully formed opinions on medications because they have infrequent need to take them. Further research should be done in order to assess the relationship between pill-taking status and sociodemographic variables. Additionally, a more randomized sample of general Americans should be studied to further understand healthy individuals’ perceptions of medications.