They’ve become household names: Celebrex, Lipotor, Pristiq, Toviaz. You’ve probably seen the ads on television, and strained to hear long and frightening lists of warnings about side effects.
Drugmakers shell out billions of dollars each year to target consumers with those ads ($4.3 billion in 2009) and even more for promotions aimed at doctors ($6.6 billion in 2009), according to IMS Health, an industry group that monitors drugs sales and marketing.
The trouble is that the ads work. Consumer Reports’ research shows about one out of every five people who take a prescription medication said they’ve asked their doctor to prescribe a drug they’ve seen advertised; of those, 59 percent said the doctors complied, according to a survey in May 2010 by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. But what the ads won’t tell you is that those newer drugs are often no safer or more effective than older medications that cost a fraction of the price.
That’s where Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs comes in. CR doesn’t test drugs the way it tests cars or refrigerators; it uses research from experts at the Drug Effectiveness Review Project, based at Oregon Health & Science University. The CR Best Buy picks could save you hundreds to thousands of dollars a year.
Most of the CR Best Buy picks are generics. That might give you pause. But to get approval from the Food and Drug Administration, a generic-drug maker must prove that its product contains the identical active ingredient as its brand-name counterpart and that the drug is “bioequivalent,” meaning that as much active ingredient enters and leaves the bloodstream as fast or as slowly. Generics that meet those criteria should have the same therapeutic effect as brand-name drugs.
Many consumers have yet to take advantage of the low prices for prescription drugs offered by many retailers.
For example, some American consumers still pay an average of $50 a month for the generic drug pravastatin to lower cholesterol. But you can buy a 30-day supply for $4 at Target or Walmart and pay even less per dose for a 90-day supply.
CR Best Buy picks include:
► For High Cholesterol. Not all cholesterol-lowering statins are the same. Inexpensive generics are the best option unless you have had a heart attack or have another heart problem. CR Best Buys:
• Generic lovastatin or pravastatin. To lower LDL cholesterol by less than 30 percent.
• Generic simvastatin. To lower LDL cholesterol by 30 percent or more for those who have heart disease or diabetes, or for those whose LDL is not highly elevated but who have had a heart attack or have acute coronary syndrome.
• Atorvastatin (Lipitor). For those who’ve had a heart attack or have acute coronary syndrome and highly elevated LDL.
► Diabetes. Older drugs work just as well as newer drugs and are safer in some cases. They could also save you a lot of money. CR Best Buys:
• Glipizide and Glipizide Sustained Release
► Heartburn. Make sure you really need a prescription medication; many people don’t. If you do, pick the least expensive option because no one drug is clearly better than another. CR Best Buys:
• Generic omeprazole
• Prevacid 24HR
• Prilosec OTC
► Depression. Antidepressants can help some people, but they aren’t always necessary. CR Best Buys:
• Generic bupropion
• Generic citalopram
• Generic fluoxetine
• Generic paroxetine
• Generic sertraline
► Pain. For moderate pain, generic drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen are your best bets. CR Best Buys:
► Allergies. Newer antihistamines are less likely to cause drowsiness, but they cost more than older drugs. Inexpensive generics are the best option. CR Best Buys:
• Generic loratadine
• Alavert (loratadine)