How to reduce the cost of prescription drugs

How to reduce the cost of prescription drugs
A survey of people who take prescription medications found that drug costs are forcing some of them to cut back on groceries, delay their retirement or even take a second job. (file photo)

TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - Americans spend more money on drugs than people in any other country.

A recent Consumer Reports survey of people who take prescription medications found that high drug costs are forcing some of them to cut back on groceries, delay their retirement or even take a second job.

Is there any way to help ease this financial burden?

Joshua Carroll, a stay-at-home father of two, deals with constant back pain. For six years now, he has suffered from a herniated disc in his back.

"There are times when we are grocery shopping and I get a spasm and I have to lay on the floor in the grocery store," Carroll says. "It's embarrassing."

An operation would fix his problem, but it's a luxury Carroll says he can't afford.

"I really don't want to do surgery because it's an added cost that we just can't afford right now," says Carroll.

Carroll is already drowning in roughly $5,000 in medical debt. In addition to paying for his own medications, he's also forced to shell out cash for several prescriptions his oldest son requires, severely draining the single income family's budget.

Carroll's situation is not unique. A new Consumer Report survey shows many American are feeling squeezed and desperate as drug costs continue to rise.

"These companies are trying to recoup some of their investments and make some money off of it," says Dr. Varun Vaidya of the University of Toledo's College of Pharmacy.

A tangled web of factors, including big drug companies, are to blame for the continued rise in prices, claiming that the extra profit is needed to bring new drugs to the market.

"Their goal is to have this product that will satisfy consumers and make them earnings on their bottom line. So their interest is definitely working on their profit line," Dr. Vaidya says.

Two websites and smart phone apps WTOL tested are promising to shake up the prescription drug industry and get people like Carroll the lowest price possible.

Apps like GoodRx, which is constantly collecting prescription drug prices from pharmacies across the country. It connects customers to coupons that they can take to local pharmacies.

Another resource available is Blink Health. This website gets prices straight from the drug maker, allowing you to pay online and then pick up the prescription.

"The last thing you want to do is not fill those prescriptions and stop taking the medications," warns Dr. Vaidya.

Dr. Vaidya has studied the rise in cost of prescription drugs for years. He says it's never a bad idea to look around for a better deal.

"Especially if you are on four or five different medications, there are going to be ways to cut it down," said Dr. Vaidya.

WTOL gave this advice a try with Carroll using the online sites. With insurance, he was paying more than $500 for his son's lifesaving EpiPen. We found it online for $367, a savings of more than $150.

We also found the muscle relaxer Carroll uses to treat his back spasms at a much cheaper $3.95 for a 30-day supply.

"That's pretty cheap for a month," Carroll says.

There are several other simple ways you can save money without technology. Dr. Vaidya says you should talk to your doctor or pharmacist about generic version, which are often cheaper.

He says another option is pill splitting.

"It's perfectly safe to use those pill splitters. So that way, if you're getting the same price for a 50 mg bottle of pills, you're essentially doubling your supply. You're getting more for half the price," says Dr. Vaidya.

Dr. Vaidya's last piece of advice is: don't feel the need to use your insurance for every prescription.

"If you use insurance, you may end up paying more than the cash price for the drug. Don't be hesitant to ask the pharmacist what's going to be the cash price," said Dr Vaidya.

Carroll says that he will remember all of this to help control his bottom line.

“Now that you’ve made me aware of that,we are going to take that opportunity to find the cheapest price and save where we can,” Carroll said.

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