Outgoing Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Arthur Hull Hayes Jr. yesterday said that nearly half of all prescription drugs are taken improperly, squandering as much as $6 billion each year and causing needless suffering from avoidable side effects and prolonged illness.

But Hayes called mandatory patient information brochures--proposed by the Carter administration and rescinded under President Reagan--a "quick fix" that would be inadequate to address the problem.

Hayes spoke at a news conference called to announce a nationwide campaign underwritten by a coalition of pharmaceutical companies, consumer groups and health care associations to promote proper drug use and encourage communication between patients and their physicians and pharmacists.

Paul G. Rogers, chairman of the National Council on Patient Information and Education, said the group has prepared television commercials, pamphlets and other materials for distribution nationwide to encourage patients to "get the answers," as the campaign is called, about the proper ways to take prescribed drugs, their side effects and other precautions.

"Patients have the need and right to know about the drugs they are prescribed," Rogers said. He called for a "dialogue" between health care professionals and their patients "to eliminate the needless hospitalizations and prolonged illness that can result from improper use of prescription drugs."

But Rogers repeatedly avoided questions about patient package inserts, which were strongly opposed by pharmacists and the drug industry. He said mandatory information brochures distributed with drugs would do little to stimulate the needed dialogue between patients and their doctors and pharmacists.

"Besides," he added, "the print is so small on those things."

Hayes also rejected the need for mandatory patient information brochures. "The arguments about patient inserts have been discussed ad infinitum," he said. Suggesting that the inserts were little more than a "gimmick," he added that the answer lay in "improving communication between doctors and patients" rather than in more government regulation.

Hayes' predecessor, Dr. Jere Goyan, disagreed.

In a telephone interview from his office at the University of California in San Francisco, Goyan called the patient information requirement "the most important accomplishment" of his two-year tenure as FDA commissioner under President Carter. "If we believe patients are entitled to more information, then we ought to require that they get it," he said.