Generic medications are supposed to be a bargain. According to the FDA, patients may be able to save as much as 80 percent on some products.

Big box discount stores have enticed customers with a three-month supply for $10. There are certain pharmacies that have even gone so far as to give away some popular generics such as atorvastatin (Lipitor) to lower cholesterol.

The generic drug industry is changing, however, and consumer savings are slipping. In some cases, the rise in generic drug prices has been breathtaking.

Take the antibiotic doxycycline, for example. It was first approved under the brand name Vibramycin in 1967. This broad-spectrum tetracycline-type drug has been used for decades to treat a wide range of infections, from chlamydia and cholera to Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Doctors also use it for urinary and respiratory tract infections.

Doxycycline used to be dirt cheap. One analysis from Pembroke Consulting found that the price of this antibiotic has gone from $.06 per pill to $3.65. That is an increase of over 6,000 percent in a relatively short period of time.

The same analysis found that clomipramine, a drug prescribed for obsessive-compulsive disorder, has gone up more than 3,000 percent from $0.27 per pill to $8.57.

Why have some generic drugs gone up so dramatically? Consolidation within the generic pharmaceutical industry means that fewer companies are making generic medications. Just three companies, Mylan, Teva and Actavis, generated 44 percent of generic drug revenue around the world.

Another serious problem is shortages. A number of companies have stopped making certain generic drugs. Lack of competition has led to decreased supply and increased demand, resulting in price gouging.

Several large generic drug makers have gotten into trouble with the FDA because of bad manufacturing practices. As a result, some key products from abroad have been banned, contributing to shortages and higher prices.

Pharmacies can also charge vastly different amounts for the same generic products. Consumer Reports surveyed 200 pharmacies around the country and found a wide spread in prices. Atorvastatin (Lipitor) ranged from $150 at CVS to $17 at Costco. Clopidogrel (Plavix) had a similar variation, from $15 at a discount drugstore to $180 at a large chain.

What should consumers do? It is becoming more difficult to do price comparisons online, but it is still important to shop comparatively. Call different pharmacies to get their prices. Sometimes bargaining will work, since many pharmacies are willing to match a competitor’s price.

Another place to get comparative price information is PharmacyChecker.com. This website uses international pharmacies to find the best price for both generic and brand name drugs. We also offer guidelines and tips for using generic drugs wisely in our Guide to Saving Money on Medicine. 

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  1. BB
    Reply

    My mother was prescribed Nystatin and Triamcinolone Acetonide cream for occasional fungal skin infections. Prior to about 2010 it was about $11.00 for a 60mg tube. The following year it went up to $160 per tube. The year after that, $240 a tube. This year it is going for $360 a tube. Are you kidding me? No one seems to be able to answer what is going on, but I cannot believe the ingredients are so costly it warrants such a markup. I feel like we are turning into a third world country.

  2. ou.alum
    Reply

    It has been my experience the big box drug stores will not give you a price until you give your insurance card. I think they should be able to check a price to avoid the customer sticker shock. Where else do you purchase something cost unknown?
    They know once they have the prescription in hand we are going to go ahead and get it. I am retired from a very large Telco and have a $2500 rx deductible. I have called every drug store in my town and said I did not have insurance. It is amazing the difference in cost each drug store charges.
    Most of the find I can get it cheaper not using my rx plan. Of course it doesn’t go toward deductible. I wish there were law to fix this.

  3. cpmt
    Reply

    I think the big insurance, pharma and drug companies have found a loop in the new laws and taking advantage and abuse the new changes which they should NOT do that (increase cost of meds etc). someone in the government in charge are not seeing these problems and poor solutions.

  4. Lisa
    Reply

    I’m flabbergasted. We are both on Medicare. We paid last year per month $26 for our drug plans. This year it’s $78 a month. We used to pay about $80 a month for all drugs…. now one of my husbands costs $88 a month. He had to stop taking one the went from a few bucks to six hundred. Right now we can’t afford our meds and our apartment and food. There must be some specific reason why things changed so drastically in 2014. I’d love to know why.

  5. s Westervelt
    Reply

    It’s simple; Europe caps drug prices to protect consumers and the US doesn’t, to protect corporations.

  6. S Westervelt
    Reply

    That’s how the amazing capitalism works. It has nothing to do with what something or worth, but how much can be made without thought or care to whom those profits cause harm.

  7. cpmt
    Reply

    I buy my amaryl pills 100 for €12 euros exactly the same than USA but much cheaper here (for what I see it costs from $90 to $48 depending where you buy them.) I don’t understand how can be that much difference in price from one country to another for the same medication.

  8. Gabriel Levitt
    Reply

    Thanks to The People’s Pharmacy for seeking and telling the truth about high drug pries and drug safety issues!
    To answer Pat’s question: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has made it very clear that Americans are not prosecuted for importing small quantities of prescription medication for their own use. However, because medications in pharmacies outside the U.S. don’t have the official FDA stamp of approval, it is under most circumstances technically illegal for individuals to import them.
    Gabriel Levitt
    Vice President
    PharmacyChecker.com

  9. Lee Graczyk
    Reply

    Thank you for addressing this issue. Consumers have long been able to count on generic drug prices being cheaper. Reports of rising generic prices are especially troubling. Record numbers of Americans are already going without their needed medications due to the exorbitant cost of brand name prescription drugs in this country.
    Drug importation from legitimate international online pharmacies can be a safe, affordable alternative. In fact, over a million Americans each year rely on this virtual lifeline to medicine. It’s important for consumers to take care when buying prescription drugs online. Independent verifiers such as PharmacyChecker.com, the Canadian International Pharmacy Association and Pharmacy Accreditation Services can assist consumers with finding legitimate Canadian and international online pharmacies. We also have tips for finding a safe online pharmacy on our website.
    RxRights is a national coalition of individuals and organizations dedicated to promoting and protecting American consumer access to sources of safe, affordable prescription drugs. We also have testimonials on our website from Americans struggling to afford their medicine (and many who import) on our website. http://www.RxRights.org

  10. Pat
    Reply

    I used the pharmacychecker and the pharmacies listed with the lowest priced were all Canadian. Is it legal to order drugs from Canada? None of my medications are narcotics.

  11. cpmt
    Reply

    It doesn’t make sense to me that a drug from the 60’s it became expensive when the pharma co. don’t have to do ‘any work’ These increases and excessive charges for new drugs should stop.

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