Customers feel the impact of fast-rising drug prices


April 04, 1995|By Joe Graedon and Dr. Teresa Graedon | Joe Graedon and Dr. Teresa Graedon,King Features Syndicate

Have you ever heard kids squabbling? "Did not!" "Did too!" An argument over prescription drug prices has taken on the same character.

Families USA, a consumer watchdog group, maintains that prices of popular prescription medications have risen at almost twice the rate of inflation.

Ron Pollack, the director of Families USA, says, "The public should be worried. If, year after year, the prices of prescription drugs increase faster than inflation, more and more people will find them unaffordable."

The drug industry, represented by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association, says that's "not of the real world." Spokesman Steve Berchem maintains that 60 percent of Americans have insurance that discounts their prescription medicine.

The two organizations are fighting over technicalities such as wholesale prices and discounts to large buyers such as hospitals and HMOs. But you don't need a degree in economics to figure out if you are paying more for prescriptions.

Sticker shock is a common malady in the drugstore. Ask most pharmacists and they will tell you that they feel bad when they charge more than many customers can afford.

A friend recently picked a prescription for an antibiotic the dentist prescribed for an abscessed tooth. The 10-day course of Ceclor cost $68. He didn't have that much cash, so he paid with his already stretched credit card.

Such stories are becoming all too common. A young woman wrote to share her plight: "I lost my job and have only 10 weeks of unemployment benefits left. I have been hospitalized three times for serious depression. I am on Zoloft and Trilafon and pay close to $100 per month for my medicine. Some months I don't take these medications because of a lack of money. I feel totally hopeless."

We fear that others are skipping medicine to make ends meet. When people drop anti-depressants, heart or high-blood-pressure pills, they might be risking their lives.

There appears no way to roll back drug prices, but people can take some steps to save money. For those who are needy, many manufacturers supply free medicine. By calling (800) PMA-INFO, you can find out who to contact at each drug company.

We have prepared a brochure for readers of this column, titled "Saving Money on Medicine." It offers strategies for cutting costs and getting free prescriptions, and it lists common drugs available generically. Anyone who would like a copy may send $1 with a long (No. 10) stamped, self-addressed envelope to Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. Z-403, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, N.C. 27717-2027.

Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Dr. Teresa Graedon is a medical anthropologist and nutrition expert.

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