Some Generic Medications Less Expensive in United States Than in Canada, FDA Study Finds
The prices of some generic prescription drugs purchased in the United States are "significantly" less than those of both brand-name and generic versions in Canada, according to an FDA study, the AP/Washington Times reports. The study examined price data collected by IMS Health on seven drugs with generic versions that are top-selling treatments for chronic conditions: anti-depressant Prozac; blood-pressure medicines Lopressor, Prinivil and Vasotec; anxiety treatment Xanax; seizure medicine Klonopin; and diabetes medicine Glucophage. Researchers compared the average price per milligram, not per bottle, because bottles can vary in dosages and numbers of pills, the AP/Times reports. In addition, researchers used the price that pharmacies paid for each drug in 2002, the last full year that U.S. and Canadian prices were available from IMS Health. The AP/Times reports that the study found that U.S. prices for six of the seven generic medications were "significantly cheaper" than Canadian prices for both the brand-name and generic versions. Glucophage was the only generic version that cost more in the United States than Canada, with a 39% higher cost per milligram in the United States for the generic version than for the brand-name version in Canada. According to the study, the U.S. price for generic Xanax was about nine times less than the Canadian brand-name price -- the largest difference among all the drugs. The next highest disparity involved Vasotec, with a U.S. generic price about five times less per milligram than the Canadian brand-name price. The generic version of Vasotec is not available in Canada. The price differences per milligram between generic medications sold in the United States and Canada ranged from 1.3 times more for the Canadian generic of Prozac to about four times more for the Canadian generic of Xanax (AP/Washington Times, 1/18). "I think consumers think everything's cheaper in Canada. It's just not the case," Tom McGinnis, pharmacy affairs chief for the FDA, said (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/18). FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan added that buying generic drugs in the United States would be a "risk-free alternative" to reimporting drugs from Canada and could save U.S. consumers more money, the AP/Times reports. "There are a lot of opportunities to save money while still making sure patients get the drugs they need," McClellan said (AP/Washington Times, 1/18).
Meanwhile, the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Friday sent letters to five large U.S. pharmaceutical companies requesting information on their efforts to prevent market entry of counterfeit medications as part of a "widening effort in Congress and among federal agencies to crack down on the illegal distribution of prescription drugs," the Washington Post reports. The committee sent letters to the five companies -- Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Serono -- because counterfeiters had targeted their products. "Despite the best efforts of many companies, the counterfeit drug problem is getting worse every day," committee spokesperson Ken Johnson said, adding, "If we're going to turn the tide, clearly it will take a greater cooperation between the private sector and the federal government." The five companies said that they would cooperate with the committee. Serono and J&J said that they have added devices to track expensive products targeted by counterfeiters, and Serono, J&J and Lilly said that they have improved the security of their product distribution systems.
The committee on Friday also sent a letter to Dr. Stephen Ancier, a New Jersey physician who has written thousands of prescriptions for several different online pharmacies, requesting information about the practice. Johnson said that the committee plans to send similar letters to other physicians in the near future. Ancier, who holds medical licenses in Washington state and Pennsylvania, said that he would "cooperate fully," adding, "I honestly don't know why they're going after me. There are a lot of physicians who have done a lot worse than me." Ancier said that he began to write prescriptions for online pharmacies in 2002, when he "was at dead bottom financially." For the next two years, Ancier said that he only wrote prescriptions for online pharmacies and that he received $2.50 to $25 per consultation. Most of the prescriptions were for lifestyle medications, such as the erectile dysfunction treatment Viagra, although some were for controlled substances, Ancier said. "I'm not doing that anymore," he added (Flaherty/Gaul, Washington Post, 1/17).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.