NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Buying Generic or Substitute Drugs

November 27, 2003

One of the most effective choices consumers have that can slice a few dollars off prescription costs is buying generic or substitute drugs. Buying generics, available for drugs whose patents have expired, is an underused way to save, experts say.

Generics deliver formulations that are similar or identical to brand-name drugs, but at a fraction of the price. The average cost of a generic prescription was $14.70 in 2002, compared with $77.02 for branded drugs, according to a recent report by the National Center for Policy Analysis.

Devon Herrick, an analyst at the National Center for Policy Analysis, is a big proponent of buying generics or cheaper substitutes when possible. Some examples are:

  • The ulcer treatment Prevacid, which costs as much as $4 a pill; has an over-the-counter substitute, Prilosec, which will be available starting this fall and cost less than $1 a pill.
  • The allergy drug Clarinex is often still prescribed for those whose co-pays are lower than the price paid for over-the-counter anti-allergy drugs such as Claritin; but for those without insurance, the generic loratadine can be a cheaper option.
  • Ninety tablets of 5 milligrams of Clarinex cost $184.99 at Drugstore .com, but 100 tablets of 10 mg of loratadine cost about $80.

About half of the brand-drug manufacturers' marketing budget is spent "to convince doctors to say that this is the best," says Herrick. "People should realize there are options. Whatever doctors give them, they don't stop to think and ask, 'Is this the only thing that works?' "

Source: Roger Yu, "Lowering drug costs: Consumers can keep prescriptions within reach," Dallas Morning News, September 29, 2003.

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