Beat High Prescription Drug Prices
by: Phyllis Staff, Ph.D.
Anyone who's been to the pharmacy to fill a prescription
lately is well aware that prices on prescription drugs
have gone through the stratosphere. But there are steps
you can take immediately to reduce your expenses in this
area. Moreover, there are long-term actions you can take
to create an atmosphere in which such high prices cannot
flourish. This week and next, we'll discuss these steps.
1. Stay well. You know the drill.
Diet. Eat more live food. The best kind comes from your
own yard. You benefit doubly by the nutrition fresh live
food provides and the exercise you get caring for your
Exercise. Walking is great, but you will also benefit
from lifting weights.
Stress reduction. Worry is there to alert you to potential
harm, but past a certain point, it is self-defeating.
Regular meditation will help you keep a tendency to worry
and stress out under control.
Do something to help others. Often, changing your focus
from internal to external helps reduce your awareness
of discomfort. And it's always helpful to be reminded
that many other people have a more difficult life than
2. Ask your physician about alternative methods to
Lifestyle changes. Lifestyle changes may bring about the
good effects you seek. Such changes may include changing
to a vegetarian or semi-vegetarian diet, increasing the
types and frequency of activities and exercise. Add meditation
to your daily routine. Get a dental checkup. Gum disease
is associated with heart problems.
Generic substitutes for name-brand prescription drugs.
Frequently less expensive generic drugs may be substituted
without losing effectiveness.
Alternative medicine. Many Americans, concerned with the
high cost of medical care, not just prescriptions drugs,
but the medical care industry as a whole, have moved toward
a more natural approach, seeking help from acupuncturists,
naturopaths, chiropractors, etc. Who knows what might
help? Try something new if you're not entirely satisfied
with your present treatment. If your physician is totally
opposed to alternative medicine, you might consider trying
a different physician.
Biomedical Devices. We've had good results with a device
called a Plant Growth Stimulator, such good results, in
fact, that we have avoided antibiotics for more than ten
years. However, we suggest you not use it on your ivy
houseplant. Too much of a good thing!
You can learn more about biomedical devices from Wayne
Green's website at:
Look under the section entitled "Bioelectrifier."
And, no, we're not making a joke here. Something similar
has been recently tested at Columbia University's Medical
Center with very positive results. Be aware, however,
that these devices are not approved by the Federal Drug
3. Reduce your dependence on medication of all types.
If you, your children, or your elders don't absolutely
have to take it, don't. Popping a pill to cure a minor
ailment can have serious consequences, including:
Bacteria resistance to antibiotics. Tina goes to her physician
for antibiotics every time she gets a cold. The fact that
antibiotics don't work on colds doesn't keep her from
asking for or her physician from prescribing a course
of antibiotics, just to be sure. Meanwhile, Americans
are experiencing the effects of drug-resistant bacteria.
Over-medication. It's difficult to know exactly the extent
to which Americans, particularly the very young and the
very old are being over-medicated, but many believe it
to be significant. Lethargy, lack of interest in surroundings,
slurred speech, unsteady gait - all can be symptomatic
of overmedication. So, watch children and senior citizens
for signs that they may be over-medicated.
Your pharmacist can be a great resource in this instance.
Find one who likes to talk. Ask questions, and listen
to her answers.
If you suspect overmedication, act quickly. One of easiest
things you can do in this case is to check with your local
pharmacist. He or she, if aware of the various medications
an individual is taking, can tell you whether or not overmedication
is likely. Your pharmacist is an especially good resource
in those instances in which a patient is receiving medications
by prescribed by different physicians.
A caveat: We are, by no means, advocating refusing needed
medications. We do, however, suggest that close attention
to the numbers and types of medications taken can not
only reduce the high costs associated with prescription
medications but may, in many cases, contribute to a greater
level of health. The body has its wisdom and its healing
mechanisms. Often, we simply need to get out of the way
and let them work for us.
Self-medication errors. Especially with easy availability
of prescription drugs from foreign pharmacies and so many
available over-the-counter medications, it's easy to overdo
it. Don't! Just because pills are easily available does
not guarantee their safety. And certain combinations of
over-the-counter drugs and other substances, such as alcohol,
can be deadly.
Drug interactions. Not only do certain drugs create unwanted
interactions when combined, others can create unwanted
side effects when taken with certain foods. Know what
to watch out for by checking out the side effects of all
4. Get prescription drugs free - maybe!
Most pharmaceutical companies offer certain expensive
drugs free to patients who might not otherwise be able
to afford them. The rules for each company vary, so find
out which company manufactures the drug you need, then
go to their website or call them to see what they require.
In general, you may qualify if your income is below a
certain level and your physician recommends that you receive
drugs from their free drug program. There may be a number
of different qualifiers, however, depending on the manufacturer
and the specific program, so you must check each drug
and each company individually.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association
of America maintains a list of drug companies and their
free drug programs. Check them out at http://www.phrma.org/searchcures/dpdpap/index.phtml.
This helpful file may be downloaded in Adobe format.
5. Order by mail from the least expensive American
Often PHARMOR has the least expensive pricing; AARP, the
most expensive pricing. And watch out for shipping and
handling costs that can add up quickly, especially for
overnight shipping required on products such as Xalatan
(a medication for glaucoma). Sometimes, if you buy in
quantity, you can avoid shipping and handling charges
altogether, so look for these deals.
The best site we've found for comparing prescription prices
is pillbot.com. Find them at:
You can search on a specific drug name on this site and
find a variety of sizes and quantities from a variety
of pharmacies. Try it. We think it's a find!
6. Order from foreign pharmacies - with or without
Pharmaceutical companies sell the same prescriptions drugs
in foreign countries that they sell in the US. The difference
is the price, typically 30 to 50% lower than prices in
On visits to Canada, we frequently stock up on drugs not
available or available at much higher prices in the US.
But you don't need to go to Canada or Mexico to take advantage
of these savings. Pharmacies in these and other countries
offer you the option of buying by mail.
You don't necessarily need a prescription to order. Although
prescriptions are required in the US, our own government's
regulations do not require them for our purchases from
Many foreign pharmacy websites offer price lists for prescription
drugs, a handy way to compare prices to those of the US.
Among those we have found are:
Don't limit your search to these pharmacy sites; many
sites will provide price comparisons.
Things to Keep in Mind
In spite of the fact that US regulations do not require
a prescription for drugs, certain foreign pharmacies do
require a doctor's recommendation. The fee for that "online
consultation" is usually about $75.00 US, so you
may eat up any savings if you deal with pharmacies with
Also, pay attention to shipping and handling costs. When
you add those to the price of the drugs, you may find
costs reach or exceed those of American discount pharmacies.
However, you can amortize those costs to a certain extent
by buying the full three-months supply allowed by US government
Make sure you compare prices before you place your final
order. While many drugs are cheaper from foreign pharmacies,
not all are. Keep notes of US discount pharmacy prices
Some foreign pharmacies sell counterfeit prescription
drugs. You'll want to stay away from them. So which are
reputable? A number of Internet companies claim to give
you a "heads-up" on which pharmacies are trustworthy
and which are not. We have not tried any of them, but
an investment of $10-$25 seems worthwhile to ensure that
you actually receive the prescriptions you need rather
than imitations that could be harmful. Take a look at
Again, don't limit yourself to these sites. There are
dozens more we have not listed that may be just as good
7. Go across the border for prescription drugs.
Avoid shipping and handling costs by going across the
border to buy your prescription drugs. But, don't form
a co-op for buying prescription drugs. This violates US
government regulations that state that you can buy prescription
medications only for your own use and only for a three-month
period of use. Violation of these rules could mean that
your cheap prescriptions could be confiscated at the border.
Nothing would stop you, however, from taking a mini-vacation
with friends to make prescription drug purchases. And,
with many prices considerably lower than those in the
US, you could take a fun break and still save money.
Use the same cautionary tactics you would use buying from
foreign pharmacies by mail order. Get a recommendation
for a reputable pharmacy. Ask around. Your friends may
already be going across the border for prescription medications
and have a pharmacy they trust.
8. Boycott pharmaceutical companies that advertise
Recently, certain oil companies announced that they would
reduce prices because their oil reserves had been replenished.
While this may be true, it is also true that they are
aware of and responsive to consumer demands to cut prices
or lose revenue. An Internet boycott of Exxon/Mobil may
have had the desired effect. Boycotting the products of
big pharmaceutical companies can create a similar reduction
Big pharmaceutical companies claim that US prices remain
high in order to cover the costs of the research and development
of new drugs. If this is true, how is it that those same
companies can afford to sell their goods in foreign markets?
Their answer: foreign government price controls set the
maximum price to be charged at a level that covers both
their production and their research and development costs.
Typically, those prices are only a modest fraction of
prices extracted from patients in the United States.
Where does the additional money paid by US consumers go?
Would it surprise you to learn that typically only half
as much money is spent on research and development as
is spent on marketing and advertising? Or that pharmaceutical
companies yearly spend $8,000 to $13,000 per physician
in marketing efforts? And unknown amounts in direct consumer
Pharmaceutical companies claim that their stepped-up advertising
efforts are in response to consumer demand and that their
advertising enhances communications between physicians
and their patients. When was the last time you and your
physician had a good discussion about the merits of a
particular prescription drug?
Such expenditures will stop if, and only if, consumers
refuse to support them.
9. Boycott pharmaceutical companies that lobby heavily.
Pharmaceutical companies contribute heavily to campaigns,
more to national candidates than state or local, but they
do contribute to all candidates that we have researched.
So, it's no wonder that the federal government fails to
comment on the high prices of prescriptions.
By boycotting the largest offenders, we can send the same
message sent to the oil companies: reduce your prices
or lose our business. And buying prescription medications
from foreign rather than domestic sources is a subtle
but effective form of boycott.
Refusing to pay high prices on prescription medications
is not the only form that a boycott can take. Pharmaceutical
companies or their parent companies manufacture many other
For example, Pfizer, the manufacturer of Aricept, Celebrex,
and Glucotrol also produces Bubblicious bubble gum, Certs,
Chicklets, and Dentyne. BenGay, Lubriderm, Listerine,
Rolaids, and Sudafed are also Pfizer products.
Pharmacia, acquired by Monsanto in 2000, produces not
only the prescription drugs Celebrex, Xalatan, and Xanax,
but also over-the-counter Rogaine and the herbicide "Roundup."
Less expensive generic or house brands are easily available
to replace these products. While the same pharmaceutical
company may still manufacture the products, the profit
margins on house brands are usually quite a bit smaller
than those of name-brand products.
10. Become an activist!
Lobby Congress, lobby state legislatures, tell your friends,
and involve your local senior centers. Refuse to vote
for legislators who accept big lobby gifts and vacation
junkets. Writing letters, not emails, to protest the gargantuan
sums spent on lobbying may be marginally effective. However,
your refusal to vote for legislators who support pharmaceutical
interest can be effective, if you let them know why they
are losing your vote.
BONUS: Elders in certain nursing homes and assisted living
communities pay thousands extra when prescriptions are
blister-packed in individual doses. Storing prescriptions
in a plastic box with the patient's name prominently displayed
can cut these costs dramatically.
Take Back Your Power
So there you have it - ten ways to reduce your costs for
prescription medications. You have in it your power to
avoid being victimized by high prices for prescription
medications, but only if you take action now. Do it today.
Take back your power. Vote with your dollars. Vote with
About The Author
Phyllis Staff, Ph.D. - Phyllis Staff is an experimental
psychologist and the CEO of The Best Is Yet.Net, an internet
company that helps seniors and caregivers find trustworthy
residential care. She is the author of How to Find Great
Senior Housing: A Roadmap for Elders and Those Who Love
Them. She is also the daughter of a victim of Alzheimer's
disease. Visit her website at http://www.thebestisyet.net