Consumers are too often opting for brand-name prescription drugs when an effective, cheaper generic alternative is available, and many are overlooking retailers' discount generic drug programs, according to Consumer Reports.

Consumer Reports, Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs, BBD, Best Buy Drugs, generic drug, prescription drugs, brand-name prescription drugs, discount generic drug programs, Lisa Gill, Drug Effectiveness Review Project, DERP, Oregon Health & Science University, nonadherence to medication, John Santa, Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center, generic drug discount programs, Best Buy Drugs report, Jessie Gruman, Center for Advancing Health, Ronald Epstein, Center for Communication and Disparities Research, Rochester Medical Center

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Report: Consumers missing out on discount generic programs

February 8th, 2011

YONKERS, N.Y. – Consumers are too often opting for brand-name prescription drugs when an effective, cheaper generic alternative is available, and many are overlooking retailers' discount generic drug programs, according to Consumer Reports.

And in another study, the consumer advocacy group finds that nonadherence to medication is the top complaint that doctors have about their patients.

According to new analysis in the March issue Consumer Reports, many common generic drugs beat their branded counterparts in terms of cost, efficacy and safety. Yet a lot of consumers aren't taking advantage of retailer discount programs offering these generics for as low as $4 a month.

"Retailers like Kmart, Target, Walgreens and Walmart have been steadily expanding their discount programs, offering $4 a month prescriptions for drugs that our evidence-based program deems 'best buys,' " stated Lisa Gill, editor of Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs (BBD). "We suspect that consumers aren't taking full advantage of these programs because of the constant din of drug advertising, which is steering consumers toward overpriced brand-name drugs."

In fact, Consumer Reports noted that drug ads aimed at swaying consumers to ask for a drug by name appear to be working. In a recent poll by Consumer Reports Health, one in five people said they had asked for a drug they had seen on television, and 59% said their doctor agreed to write the prescription.

Consumer Reports said BBD identifies "best buys" based on a review of the medical evidence in partnership with the Drug Effectiveness Review Project (DERP), based at Oregon Health & Science University. For each class of drugs to treat a given condition, BBD uses an analysis of hundreds of studies, and sometimes thousands, by DERP to derive its "best buy" designations. The free reports cover 25 classes of drugs for more than 35 conditions.

The Best Buy Drugs report explains that generic drug makers must prove that their product contains the identical active ingredients as their branded counterparts and that the drug is "bioequivalent," meaning that as much active ingredient enters and leaves the bloodstream at the same speed. The report noted that the Food and Drug Administration has found no difference in the rate of adverse reactions between generic and brand-name drugs.

"Generics look different from brands because of trademark issues. But they're equivalent in efficacy, and consumers can save up to 80% off the retail price," commented John Santa, M.D., M.P.H., and director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center.

Consumer Reports pointed out that consumers can buy a 30-day supply of many common generics for $4 at Target or Walmart without paying a fee and that it's also worth considering a 90-day supply for greater savings per dose. The group said the following generic drug discount programs require a fee: CVS ($15 per year), Kmart ($10 per year for one of its programs; another is free) and Walgreens ($20 per year for individuals and $35 for a family). Also, Costco's program is free to the warehouse club chain's members (membership costs $50 a year).

Examples of lower-cost generic alternatives to brand-name drugs cited in the Best Buy Drugs report included the following:

• For high cholesterol: Generic lovastatin was identified as a "best buy" at $4 a month versus Lipitor at $112 a month.

• For moderate pain (such as muscle aches or headaches): Generic ibuprofen for $4 a month versus "riskier" Celebrex at $139 a month.

• For depression: Generic fluoxetine at $4 a month versus "heavily advertised" Cymbalta for an estimated $181 a month. (Consumer Reports said up to 40% of people will find no relief with the first antidepressant they try and may need to try one or more different medications.)

Meanwhile, a new poll of 660 primary care doctors by the Consumer Reports National Research Center revealed that physicians' top gripe regarding their patients was noncompliance with advice or treatment recommendations.

Most doctors said the nonadherence affected their ability to provide optimal care, and more than a third (37%) said it did so "a lot."

Consumer Reports said that according to Dr. Jessie Gruman, president of the Center for Advancing Health, a patient advocacy group in Washington, D.C., compliance can be complicated for patients. Hospitals are sending patients home with long lists of self-care chores, and prescription drug and lifestyle regimens for those with chronic conditions can be difficult to manage or, in some cases, to afford.

Some patients don't follow treatment programs because they're disorganized, yet others might fail to comply because they've experienced serious side effects, don't fully understand what they're supposed to do or found the treatment wasn't working, according to Ronald Epstein, M.D., director of the Center for Communication and Disparities Research at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York.  "Doctors need to make it safe for patients to bring those things up," he stated in the Consumer Reports analysis.