Older, generic drugs not just the cheaper option

Money is tight for many families in the United States and health care costs are a part of the problem. For many people, even those with adequate health insurance, these costs can be crippling. While Obama’s healthcare initiative looks to alleviate some of these concerns in the future, the increasing costs of prescription drugs remains troubling.


Skyrocketing drug costs

As a headline story, “Drug prices jump again,” in USA Today points out, prescription medication costs are actually increasing just as many other health costs are finally leveling off. Drug companies are charging more for the pricey brand name drugs than they did for the same medications last year.

Generic medications offer a lower cost option but many people are unfamiliar with the wide variety of generic medications available. Many of the nationwide chains, most notably Wal-mart, Kmart and similar giants have lists of the generic medications offered at reasonable prices. These drugs may also offer benefits that are often overlooked in favor of newer, more expensive and more heavily advertised brand name drugs.

Oldies but goodies

While the majority of the medications listed are older, many of the drugs remain the mainstay of treatment for common medical conditions such as Diabetes, Hypertension, Hyperlipidemia and Coronary Artery Disease (CAD). These generics include many powerful medications such as beta blockers, ace-inhibitors, anti-arrhythmics, statins, as well as the critical diabetic drug, metformin.

In some cases, this has sparked new interest in using generic versions of medications such as pravastatin that were previously discarded in favor of fancier, flashier brand name medications such as Crestor (rosuvastatin). Now, pharmacetical companies have raised prices of some of their most popular medications; for example the price of Crestor has continued to increase to an average of 193.00 per month, according to Dennis Cauchon at USA Today. This has led more people; patients and providers alike to switch to generics such as pravastatin. These escalating drug costs, in turn, is driving new research into medications that have been forgotten, in large part, by clinical scientists.

Is newer always better? The pravastatin example

Interestingly enough, recent research and clinical evidence demonstrates that in many cases, pravastatin isn’t just the more affordable choice, it’s a better one. In several clinical studies, pravastatin was shown to be more readily tolerated by people with a history of myopathy or statin related complications than other related statin drugs. Pravastatin is also the preferred statin medication for many people who are taking amiodarone or similar anti-arrhythmic drugs due to the risk of severe drug interactions with other statin drugs such as Zocor (simvastatin).

With more recent concerns about the association between statin use and diabetes, pravastatin again emerges as the safer option according to a new study recently published in the American Journal of Cardiology. Eliano Navarese and his colleagues performed a meta-analysis which compared the risk of developing diabetes with different statins and dosages in over 113,000 patients.

The metformin example

Metformin is another example of an older, but critical drug in the management of non-insulin dependent diabetes. While metformin was initially developed in 1977, this drug has remained a mainstay of diabetic management due to the low incidence of side effects, and a strong safety profile. In an era when many diabetes medications have been linked to serious cardiovascular complications, metformin remains the only diabetes medication shown to prevent vascular complications such as amputations.

For both healthcare providers and their patients, new applications or evidence for the use of these widely available and affordable medications may be an effective way to combat out-of-control drug costs. If you can not afford your current medications, talk to your healthcare provider about lower cost alternatives.

K. Eckland Calexico Health Examiner

February 15, 2013