Tag: drug prices

Prescribe These Inexpensive Medications for Kids, Not Tho$e

The Auvi-Q epinephrine injector retails for over $2,500 each.
The Auvi-Q epinephrine injector retails for over $2,500 each, but it is recommended that folks have at least two!

Folks are no longer surprised when outrageous drug prices make the news.

Remember the $600 EpiPens?

We got less expensive alternatives after folks complained and there was a lot of media attention, but many other drugs are still expensive.

Did you know that there is a diaper rash cream on the market that costs over $600? What’s startling, is that the cream, Vusion, is simply made up of three ingredients that are available over the counter – miconazole (an antifungal drug), zinc oxide, and petroleum jelly.

There is also a pill for pinworms, Emverm, that costs $600!

Saving Money on Pediatric Prescriptions

There is one very easy way to save money on your next pediatric prescription.

That’s right, make sure your child really needs it.

No, that doesn’t mean not filling your pediatrician’s prescription, but it can mean simply asking if a prescription medication is really necessary the next time your kids get sick. Unfortunately, many conditions are over-treated, from ear and sinus infections to pink eye and reflux.

Also, when your child does need a prescription, instead of asking for a coupon, ask if a lower cost, generic alternative might be appropriate.

You can also:

  • make sure the medication is covered by your drug plan, if you have one
  • get a 90 day supply if it is a medication that your child uses long-term, like to control asthma
  • ask about optimizing your child’s dose so that they don’t need multiple pills, for example, taking one 30mg capsule is likely less expensive than taking two 15mg capsules each day
  • see if an alternative form of the same medication might be less expensive. For example, a tube of mupirocin (Bactroban) cream is a lot more expensive than a tube of mupirocin ointment, although both forms of the topical antibiotic can be used in the same situations. Similarly, ondansetron (Zofran) syrup is more expensive than ondansetron orally disintegrating tablets, which is often used when kids have nausea and vomiting.

To save money on prescriptions, you might also use a service like GoodRx, to search for the lowest prices at nearby pharmacies. Especially if you have a high deductible or if a medicine isn’t covered by your insurance, it can sometimes be cheaper to use GoodRx, or a similar service with discount cards, than to go through your insurance plan. And remember that some pharmacies, like at Walmart, offer many $4 generic drugs.

Lastly, ask your pediatrician for samples and go through the manufacturer’s patient assistance plan for help paying for your medicines.

Prescribe These Inexpensive Medications, Not Tho$e

Still can’t afford your child’s prescription?

Fortunately, there is almost always an alternative medication that is less expensive, but will work just as well, that you can ask your pediatrician about. It doesn’t do your child any good if your pediatrician prescribes a medication, but you don’t get it because you can’t afford it. Ask about an alternative instead.

In general, if you need a coupon to get the drug, you can expect that it is an expensive medication. And even if the coupon makes it affordable for you, remember that someone is still paying for it, and in the end, that’s likely going to be you in the form of higher insurance rates.

Will any of these alternatives work for your child?

 

Expensive Drug Less Expensive Alternative*
Vusion (diaper rashes) use Lotrimin + Triple Paste
Advair, Dulera, Symbicort (asthma) generic AirDuo1
Moxeza or Vigamox (pink eye) ofloxacin oph drops2
Auvi-Q (epineprine inj) generic Adrenaclick or EpiPen3
Emverm (pinworms) Reese’s Pinworm Medicine (OTC)
Omnaris, QNasl, Veramyst (allergies) generic Flonase (fluticasone propionate) or Nasacort (triamcinolone) (OTC)
Patanase (allergies) azelastine
 Suprax (UTI) trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole or Cefdinir4
Suprax (ear infection) high dose amoxicillin or Augmentin or Cefdinir
Ciprodex, Cipro HC (ear drops) ofloxacin oph drops5
Vyvanse, Mydayis (ADHD) generic Adderall XR or Adderal6
Aptensio, Cotempla XR-ODT, Daytrana, QuilliChew ER & Quillivant XR (ADHD) generic Concerta or Ritalin6
EpiDuo, Ziana (acne) benzoyl peroxide/clindamycin
or Differin (OTC)
Solodyn, Doryx (acne) minocycline, doxycycline
Sklice, Ulesfia (lice) spinosad (Natroba) or an OTC treatment
Nexium (GERD) lansoprazole (Prevacid)7 OTC
Cutivate, Elocon, Topicort (eczema) triamcinolone 0.1% cream
 Clarinex (allergies) loratadine (Claritin)8 OTC
Xyzal (allergies) cetirizine (Zyrtec)8 OTC
levalbuterol (Xopenex) (asthma) albuterol8
Patanol, Pataday, Pazeo  (allergies) Zaditor9 (OTC)

*To be clear though, these aren’t direct brand name to generic equivalents. Most are less expensive alternative medications that many pediatricians use every day though. Many were once the primary treatment and were found to work well. They were eventually replaced by newer medications, which were thought to work better, even though there are rarely head-to-head studies that actually prove that they work better than older, now less expensive medicines.

  1. AirDuo – this is a generic preventative asthma inhaler, which like Advair, combines fluticasone propionate and salmeterol. The main downside? It can’t be used with a spacer.
  2. Before looking for lower cost antibiotic eye drops to treat pink eye, you should maybe reconsider the need to treat pink eye in the first place. Most experts now think that pink eye is usually a viral infection, and even when it is caused by a bacteria, unless it is severe, it will likely go away without treatment. Most importantly, keep in mind that according to the AAP, “exclusion is no longer required” for kids with pink eye if they are in daycare or school, which is often why many parents seek treatment in the first place.
  3. Epinephrine injectors are lifesaving medicines for kids with food allergies. They were one of the first medicines to expose how drug coupons helped drug prices soar (the $600 EpiPens), while parents got free medicines for their kids – at least if they had insurance and a co-pay to worry about. Those paying cash or who had a high deductible plan were stuck with high priced drugs. Less expensive epinephrine injectors are now available, but one of the most expensive medicines on our list is back – Auvi-Q. Although the manufacturer advertises that it is available for just $0 for commercially insured patients, each injector pack (comes with 2 injectors and a trainer) actually costs up to $2,500! And since it is recommended that kids have multiple injector packs to store in multiple places, the real price is at least $5,000.
  4. Suprax (cefixime) was once a popular antibiotic for UTIs, especially once it became generic. Then, because it was maybe not popular enough, they stopped making it. It came back though, but not with a generic price tag. Some push it as a better choice for kids with persistent ear infections, but keep in mind that when mentioned on the list of antibiotics in the AAP ear infection treatment guide, it is suggested that when multiple antibiotics have failed, “a course of clindamycin may be used, with or without an antibiotic that covers nontypeable H influenzae and M catarrhalis, such as cefdinir, cefixime, or cefuroxime.” There is likely no benefit to using Suprax by itself or over a less expensive antibiotic.
  5. Can you really use ofloxacin ophthalmic drops in a child’s ear? Yes, although it is an off-label treatment. You just can’t use otic (ear) drops in a child’s eyes. While eye drops are sterile, ear drops aren’t. And for some reason, eye drops are less expensive than ear drops.
  6. Most newer, once a day ADHD medicines are expensive. Some aren’t even covered on insurance plans. Generic medicines are going to be less expensive than newer brand name medicines and short acting stimulants, like Adderall and Ritalin, are the cheapest. Your child just has to take a repeat dose around lunch time.
  7. In many ways, we have come a long way in treating infants with reflux. Gone are the days of using medicines with dangerous side effects, like Propulsid (cisapride) and Reglan (Metoclopramide). Now, if they have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), they are usually treated with an antisecretory agent to reduce acid and pain, but not necessary reduce the amount of spitting up. This can include histamine H2 receptor antagonists, like Zantac (ranitidine), and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). Before Nexium packets for delayed release oral suspension became available, we had Prevacid Solutabs, which are now available OTC. This would be an off-label treatment.
  8. Clarinex and Xyzal are new classes of medications that turn a drug made up of a racemic mixture (Claritin and Zyrtec) into a single enatiomer. Basically, these drugs are made up of two mirror images of themselves. The theory is that if you make a new drug with just one of those mirror images, then it will work better and cause less side effects. For the great majority of people, these new drugs just cost more. Xopenex was one of the first drugs to use this method, as it is just the R-enantiomer or isomer of albuterol = levalbuterol. Does it work better than albuterol? No. Some people do think that it has fewer side effects, so it might be worth a try if your child gets very jittery or gets an elevated heart rate when he takes albuterol.
  9. Why try an over-the-counter medicine when prescription medications are available? Many medicines that are now over-the-counter, from Allegra and Claritin to Flonase and Nasacort, used to only be available with a prescription. Like these and many more medications, Zaditor allergy eye drops was once a prescription drug. It is available for kids who are at least three years old and might be worth a try before you spend money on a more expensive allergy eye drop.

In general, just remember that the “latest and greatest” medication isn’t always the greatest. Sometimes it is just newer and more expensive. Don’t be afraid to ask about an alternative if it is too expensive.

What to Know About Saving Money on Pediatric Prescriptions

Medications can be expensive, but there are things you can do to try and save money the next time your kids get a prescription from their pediatrician.

More on Saving Money on Pediatric Prescriptions

What to Do About QVAR Being Redesigned

Do your kids have asthma?

What medicines do they take?

Asthma Medications

Kids with asthma basically get treated with five types of medications, including:

  • inhaled short acting bronchodilators – albuterol nebulizer solution, levalbuterol nebulizer and HFA (Xopenex), ProAir HFA, ProAir Respiclick, Proventil HFA, Ventolin HFA
  • oral steroids – prednisolone, prednisone
  • inhaled steroids -Alvesco, Asmanex Twisthaler, Flovent HFA or Diskus, Pulmicort Respules, Pulmicort Flexhaler, QVAR RediHaler
  • inhaled long acting bronchodilators
  • montelukast (Singulair) – a leukotriene receptor antagonist that can help prevent asthma and allergy symptoms

Two of these, inhaled steroids and inhaled long acting bronchodilators, which are typically used in combination products (Advair, AirDuo, Dulera, and Symbicort), are commonly used every day to prevent asthma symptoms and asthma attacks.

How Kids Take Asthma Medications

Asthma is one of those conditions that should be a lot easier to control than it usually is.

Although many preventative medications are available, they typically have to be used every day and the medications have to be given with a nebulizer (takes time) or an inhaler (requires good technique).

A spacer allows younger kids to use asthma inhalers.
A spacer allows younger kids to use asthma inhalers. Photo by Vincent Iannelli, MD

Fortunately, younger kids who can’t yet learn to use an inhaler can get around this by using their inhaler with a spacer or a spacer with a mask.

How do spacers work with your child’s asthma inhaler?

The medicine from the inhaler goes in the spacer and then the child can just breath it in, not having to coordinate, or time when they breath, with when the medicine actually comes out of the inhaler.

What’s the problem?

More and more drug companies are switching to dry powder inhalers. These are great for older kids, who can easily master the necessary technique – a quick, deep breath. But they are still too hard to use for younger kids and can’t be used with a spacer.

“In a systematic review, the mean percentages of patients who used their inhalers without mistakes were 63% for metered dose inhalers (MDIs); 75% for breath-actuated MDIs; and 65% for dry powder inhalers (DPIs).”

Haughney et al. on Choosing inhaler devices for people with asthma: Current knowledge and outstanding research needs

Others are switching to breath-actuated aerosol inhalers that are also too difficult for younger kids to use (they must close their lips around the mouth piece and inhale deeply) and also can’t be used with a spacer.

The Redesigned QVAR Inhaler

While some companies still make two versions of their inhalers, a traditional metered dose inhaler (MDI) and a dry powder inhaler (DPI) or breath-actuated device, more and more have just one option.

QVAR, which has long had the popular inhaled steroid QVAR HFA in 40 and 80 mcg strengths, has now switched to a breath-actuated device.

While the availability of the QVAR RediHaler is good news, as some experts think that breath-actuated devices are better than coordinated devices, the bad news is that they dropped their older QVAR inhalers which could be used with a spacer.

Be careful that your pharmacy doesn’t switch your child from QVAR to QVAR RediHaler unless you think it is appropriate.

So what are your options if your child needs an inhaled steroid?

  • Is your child old enough to learn how to use the QVAR RediHaler or a DPI inhaler, like Asmanex Twisthaler, Flovent Diskus, or Pulmicort Flexhaler? Online videos and demonstration devices can help teach your child.
  • Is your child’s asthma under poor control, so that QVAR wasn’t a good option anymore anyway, in which case your child might need a step up to a combination inhaler that can be used with a spacer, such as Advair, AirDuo, Dulera, or Symbicort?
  • Is your child’s asthma under such good control that your pediatrician might consider a step down off daily inhaled steroid therapy, so that you can stop using QVAR?
  • Do you have a nebulizer and so can use budesonide (Pulmicort) respules instead?

Although the fact that it has “a spacer-free design” is being used as a selling point for the new QVAR RediHaler, that doesn’t help those kids who still need to use a spacer. For them, the easiest option is to simply switch to another brand of steroid inhaler that can still be used with a spacer. These include Flovent HFA (44, 110, and 220mcg) and Alvesco (80 and 160mcg). Both are usually more expensive than QVAR though, which is what made QVAR popular. These other inhalers also might not be covered by your insurance plan.

The Future of Asthma Inhalers

Now that the patents on HFA inhalers are expiring, instead of making inexpensive HFA inhalers, to keep drug prices high, drug companies are developing new delivery devices that they can patent. What’s surprising, is that QVAR is made by Teva, which traditionally makes “lower cost” generic medications.

“Daddy, why can’t they put my asthma medicine in a spray-can like they do hair spray?”

Stein et al. on The History of Therapeutic Aerosols: A Chronological Review

In 1955, a young girl asked her father a simple question and a few months later, the first MDI for asthma was developed.

Can asking a simple question about asthma inhalers get us such quick results today?

Let’s see…

AirDuo-RespiclickWhy isn’t someone making inexpensive asthma inhalers?

Teva did recently get approval for their AirDuo brand and generic inhaler.

A combination of fluticasone propionate and salmeterol, AirDuo is similar to Advair. It is different in that the three strengths of AirDuo (55/14, 113/14 and 232/14 mcg) don’t exactly match the three strengths of Advair (45/21, 115/21 and 230/21 mcg), but at about 25% of the cost, few folks likely care. They might care that AirDuo is only available in a RespiClick version (a dry powder inhaler), and so can’t be used with a spacer.

Ironically, Teva’s AirDuo generic inhaler, a combination inhaler, is less much expensive than their QVAR inhaler, which only contains a steroid.

We will hopefully see more generic versions of more inhalers, including more that stay in a traditional non-breath-actuated, non-DPI form. And more asthma inhalers that are much less expensive.

What to Know About QVAR Being Redesigned

The redesign of QVAR and other asthma inhalers to breath actuated and dry powder versions can mean that they can’t be used with spacers and so can’t be used by infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and younger school aged children with asthma.

More on QVAR HFA Being Redesigned

Treating the Flu and Hard to Control Flu Symptoms

It is much easier to prevent the flu with a flu shot than to try and treat the flu after you get sick.
It is much easier to prevent the flu with a flu shot than to try and treat the flu after you get sick.

Unfortunately, like most upper respiratory tract infections, the flu is not easy to treat.

What are Flu Symptoms?

While a cold and the flu can have similar symptoms, those symptoms are generally more intense and come on more quickly when you have the flu.

These flu symptoms can include the sudden onset of:

  • fever and chills
  • dry cough
  • chest discomfort
  • runny nose or stuffy nose
  • sore throat
  • headache
  • body aches
  • feelings of fatigue

And more rarely, vomiting and diarrhea.

In contrast, cold symptoms come on more gradually and are more likely to include sneezing, stuffy nose, sore throat, and mild to moderate coughing. A cold is also less likely to include a headache, fatigue, chills, or aches. And while either might have fever, it will be more low grade with a cold.

As with other infections, flu symptoms can be very variable. While some people might have a high fever, chills, body aches, constant coughing, and can hardly get out of bed, others might have a low grade fever and much milder symptoms.

That variability also applies to how long the flu symptoms might last. Some people are sick for a good 7 to 10 days, while others start to feel better in just a few days.

Treating Flu Symptoms

Although there aren’t many good treatments for the flu, that variability in flu symptoms makes it hard to even know if any you try really work.

For kids older than 4 to 6 years and adults, you could treat symptoms as necessary, including the use of decongestants and cough suppressants.

And of course, almost everyone might benefit from pain and fever relievers, drinking extra fluids, and rest, etc.

Treating the Flu

In addition to symptomatic flu treatments, there are also antiviral drugs that can actually help treat your flu infection.

These flu medications include oseltamivir (Tamiflu), zanmivir (Relenza), and peramivir (Rapivab). Of these, oral Tamiflu is the most commonly used. It can also be used to prevent the flu if taken before or soon after you are exposed to someone with the flu.

“If liquid Tamiflu is not available and you have capsules that give the right dose (30 mg, 45 mg or 75 mg), you may pull open the Tamiflu capsules and mix the powder with a small amount of sweetened liquid such as regular or sugar-free chocolate syrup. You don’t have to use chocolate syrup but thick, sweet liquids work best at covering up the taste of the medicine.”

FDA – Tamiflu: Consumer Questions and Answers

Unfortunately, these flu drugs are not like antibiotics you might take for a bacterial infection. You don’t take Tamiflu and begin to feel better in day or two. Instead, if you take it within 48 hours of the start of your flu symptoms, you might “shorten the duration of fever and illness symptoms, and may reduce the risk of complications from influenza.”

At best, you are likely only going to shorten your flu symptoms by less than a day. And considering the possible side effects of these medications and their cost, they are often reserved for high risk patients, including:

  • children who are less than 2 years old
  • adults who are at least 65 years old or older
  • anyone with chronic medical problems, including asthma, diabetes, seizures, muscular dystrophy, morbid obesity, immune system problems, and those receiving long-term aspirin therapy, etc.
  • pregnant and postpartum women
  • anyone who is hospitalized with the flu
  • anyone with severe flu symptoms

That means that most older children and teens who are otherwise healthy, but have the flu, don’t typically need a prescription for Tamiflu. The current recommendations don’t rule out treating these kids though.

“Antiviral treatment also can be considered for any previously healthy, symptomatic outpatient not at high risk with confirmed or suspected influenza on the basis of clinical judgment, if treatment can be initiated within 48 hours of illness onset.”

Antiviral Agents for the Treatment and Chemoprophylaxis of Influenza – Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)

There is a lot of controversy surrounding the use of Tamiflu and other anti-viral flu medications, with some studies and many experts thinking that they should rarely be used, if ever, stating that they are not as useful as others claim. Others state that while they not perfect, they are all we have, and there is enough evidence to recommend their use.

Treating Hard to Control Flu Symptoms

Instead of learning about treating hard to control flu symptoms, which might require medical attention, it is probably much more important to learn how to recognize these severe flu symptoms that might be hard to control.

Your child’s flu might be getting worse and require quick medical attention if you notice:

  • fast or hard breathing
  • complaints of chest pain
  • that it is hard to wake up your child
  • irritability to the point that your child is not consolable
  • signs of dehydration because your child won’t drink any fluids
  • that your child is complaining of being dizzy or is feeling lightheaded

You might also need to seek medical attention if your child with the flu was getting better, but then worsens again, with the return of a fever and more severe coughing, etc.

What to Know About Treating the Flu and Flu Symptoms

In addition to basic symptomatic care for your child’s flu symptoms, including the fever, cough, and runny nose, etc., Tamiflu can be an option to treat high risk kids with the flu.

And remember that it is recommended that everyone who is at least six months old should get a yearly flu vaccine.

More Information on Treating Hard to Control Flu Symptoms

Are Drug Coupons Behind the Jump in the Cost of an EpiPen?

The high price of Mylan’s EpiPens is getting a lot of attention lately.

In a way that’s good. Not just so that something will finally be done about high drug prices, but because more people need to know about food allergies and about the importance of having and using EpiPens. That is one thing Mylan got right. Their education and awareness campaigns not only encouraged parents to get EpiPens for their kids, but they strongly encouraged them to use them.

Just a ploy to sell more EpiPens? Not when you realize that many people are afraid to use their EpiPens, even when they are having a severe allergic reaction.

Still, they certainly got greedy with the continued price hikes.

Although we are getting used to hearing about high drug prices, they typically aren’t for drugs that your pediatrician prescribes everyday.

You were likely outraged when Martin Shkreli raised the price of Darapim to $750 a pill, but you probably still have no idea what it is used for. On the other hand, you may have or almost certainly know someone with an EpiPen.

An epinephrine autoinjector is traditionally the only treatment for people having anaphylactic reactions to peanuts, insect bites and stings, or other serious allergic reactions.

Why fuss about the cost of a life-saving drug or device? A product that can save your child’s life in a manner of seconds would be priceless to most people.

Much of the issue is that they went from costing about $100 in 2006 to over $600 today. Even last year, a set of two EpiPens (one dose) cost up to $450. So it would be nice to have that option to save lives and save money. Afterall, the very same EpiPens are much cheaper in most other countries.

Surprisingly, it has been the media and not parents or patients who are doing most of the complaining about the high cost of EpiPens. Most of us have insurance and can use a coupon to waive their copay and effectively get their EpiPens free. Those without insurance may not be able to see a doctor to get a prescription, but if they can, may be eligible for Mylan’s patient assistance program.

So who is paying full price?

Mostly people with high deductible insurance plans, at least until they realize that they might save money going with a more costly insurance plan without a deductible, especially if family members have other medical problems, like asthma.

Why asthma?

Have you priced an asthma inhaler lately? Those that you use to prevent asthma can easily cost $300 to $400 each month. A rescue inhaler can cost another $100.

Competition hasn’t helped us get less expensive asthma inhalers. You will need a coupon for that.

Drug coupon use by patients could “come at the cost of higher long-term expenses for themselves and society.” That was a warning in the New England Journal of Medicine editorial “Prescription-Drug Coupons — No Such Thing as a Free Lunch.”

Unfortunately, instead of heeding the warning back in 2013, some companies adopted it as a business model.

Martin Shkreli didn’t do anything original when he bought the rights to the antiparasitic drug pyrimethamine and rebranded it as Darapim, raising the price 5,000%.

For example, although Lupin Pharmaceuticals makes many generic medications, they chose to license Suprax, an expensive antibiotic with a coupon, as a branded generic. So while a similar generic antibiotic, such as cefdinir, might cost about $50, Suprax costs about $250 to $400 for a 10 day course. It will also likely be on the highest and most expensive tier of your insurance, which is why they offer a coupon.

Impax Laboratories, another big maker of generic drugs, takes the cake though. They are selling Emverm for $596 a pill. A chewable pill that is used to treat pinworms, with two doses over two weeks, that means one treatment to stop your child’s butt from itching can cost almost $1200 – unless you use their coupon. An inexpensive generic version of the very same medicine, Vermox, was discontinued in 2011.

It was discontinued by Teva Pharmaceuticals, who then sold the rights to the drug to Amedra Pharmaceuticals, which was then acquired by Impax.

An off-patent, generic drug, Vermox should have been getting cheaper, not having its price soar. The fact that they offer consumers free coupons, meaning they won’t actually pay for the drug, likely explains how they get away with it.

Of course, we all end up paying. There is no free lunch, except maybe when the drug reps for these companies drop off those coupons at your doctor’s office.