Health Column: Five ways to save money on your medications in 2014 |

Health Column: Five ways to save money on your medications in 2014

Phil Mohler, M.D.
Free Press Health Columnist
Close-up of a person's hand holding a bottle of pills
Getty Images/Purestock | Purestock

An increasing percentage of Americans cannot afford to buy their medicines. Up to 20 percent of new prescriptions are never filled. Often patients are reluctant to disclose their inability to purchase their prescriptions with their physician.

Here are some ideas to help minimize your drug costs in the new year.

1. Free drug samples often are not free

Big Pharma invests millions of dollars in their sampling programs each year and they consistently get big returns on their money. The drugs mostly sampled are the expensive, new “me too” kids on the block. The problem is that after while, the samples are no longer provided and you may be stuck with an expensive long-term prescription.

Take Home: If offered brand-name sample drugs by your doctor, ask if there is a generic drug that has comparable effectiveness — 90 percent of the time there is one. Using sample drugs for limited short problems, like an infection, may be appropriate.

2. Splitting pills saves money

Splitting works best for tablets that are flat priced. For example, the 100 mg. sized tablet of Imitrex (sumatriptan) costs the same as the 50 mg. or 25 mg. size). Tablets that are scored (indented line down the middle) are best, but a pill splitter or a sharp knife works quite well. Many antidepressant, cholesterol-lowering, high-blood pressure, and erectile dysfunction drugs are splittable.

Check out the Consumers Report website,, or email me if you have a question about splitting your pills.

3. Do NOT demand the newest

This is about economics, but safety as well. In the last 10 years, the majority of new drugs brought to market have been “me too” products that are rolled out when a drug company’s blockbuster has lost its patent protection. The new antidepressant, Pristiq, was Pfizer’s response when their much prescribed Effexor XR went generic. These two drugs are quite comparable in their effectiveness and side effects, but Pristiq will cost you three to five times as much as generic Effexor XR.

New drugs may be brought to market with as few as 3,500 patients being studied. What if the new drug has a serious side effect that occurs in one of 5,000 patients? More than 20 FDA approved drugs have been withdrawn in the last two decades.

Recall Sir William Osler’s tongue-in-cheek advice ­— “New Drugs, use them while they are still safe.”

4. Do you need all the medicines you are taking?

This counts for both prescription and over the counter ones. Physicians are very adept at starting new medications, but we are not very good about stopping meds when they are no longer needed. At your next physician visit, take your list of medicines and explore with your caregiver whether you really need all of the drugs you are taking.

5. Shop around

I have done “secret shopper” telephone surveys of pharmacies in the Grand Valley for 25 years. The results are always the same. There are as much as tenfold differences in what local pharmacies charge for the same prescription. Calling several pharmacies about your new prescription will save money.

GJ Free Press health columnist Dr. Mohler has practiced family medicine in Grand Junction for 39 years. He has a particular interest in pharmaceutical education. Phil works part-time for both Primary Care Partners and Rocky Mountain Health Plans. Email him at

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