updated 4/21/2004 3:51:06 PM ET 2004-04-21T19:51:06

A sizable share of diabetics who have health insurance used no medicine at all to control their condition, leading to higher costs and more frequent hospitalizations, according to new research paid for by the pharmaceutical industry.

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One conclusion of the study commissioned by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America: Prescription drugs should be used more often to treat diabetes and other chronic illnesses.

“Now is the time to move ahead by promoting a healthy lifestyle among diabetes patients, regular testing and, when needed, the use of medicines that can help patients maintain their health,” said Alan F. Holmer, PhRMA’s president.

In a study that followed nearly 195,400 patients with the most common form of diabetes, nearly one in five did not use insulin or other anti-diabetes drugs over an entire year. This group saw doctors more often, spent more time in the hospital and had higher costs for lab tests and home care than patients treated with medicines, said the study, conducted by Massachusetts-based PharMetrics Inc.

In another, smaller sample of 19,000 diabetics, 30 percent took no medications during an entire year, the study said. “These results suggest that there may be much opportunity for improvement in the management of the diabetic patient,” it said.

The study examined only people with insurance so that differences in the use of medicines could not be attributed to health care coverage.

Diabetes impairs the body’s ability to produce or make proper use of insulin, resulting in elevated blood sugar levels that can damage the kidneys, heart, eyes and other organs.

More than 16 million Americans have diabetes, but experts think 6 million of them don’t know it is festering in their bodies. It kills 180,000 people annually.

Treating the disease cost almost $92 billion in 2002, more than double what it cost just five years earlier.

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