Generic and over-the-counter versions of Prevacid® will save upstate New Yorkers millions

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Upstate New Yorkers who take the brand-name prescription drug Prevacid® for treating heartburn and acid reflux have a significant opportunity to save by switching to the drug’s generic equivalent or over-the-counter (OTC) version now that the Prevacid patent has expired, according to Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

The current retail price of Prevacid is approximately $212 per month. Generic lansoprazole, which has the same active ingredients, is a lower-priced option that is expected to cost about 70 percent less by mid-2010 as more companies are allowed to produce it. The manufacturer of over-the-counter Prevacid®24HR recommends that retailers charge $11.99 for a 14-day supply.

“The increased availability of generic and over-the-counter drugs saves consumers money at the pharmacy through lower copays and out-of-pocket costs. It also lowers benefit expenses for employer-sponsored and government health plans, and studies show it may help to improve patient compliance,” said Joel Owerbach, Pharm. D., vice president and chief pharmacy officer, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “It’s a win-win for everyone.”

Prevacid is a proton pump inhibitor, a class of drugs that treats heartburn and acid reflux. Its generic, lansoprazole, joins other generic and over-the-counter heartburn medications in this class, which includes generic and over-the-counter omeprazole (brand-name Prilosec®), Prilosec OTC® and omeprazole OTC, and generic pantoprazole (brand-name Protonix®). “The increasing availability of over-the-counter options is terrific for those without prescription drug coverage,” said Owerbach.

Nationally, prescriptions for proton pump inhibitors continued to climb in 2009 with an estimated 3.26 million people filling prescriptions compared to 2.83 million in 2005. In upstate New York, more than 420,000 prescriptions for Prevacid were filled in the last year at an estimated annual expense of more than $89 million.

With the addition of generic Prevacid, there are now a host of safe, low-cost medications for effectively treating heartburn.

Most drug manufacturers are granted an exclusive patent to produce a brand-name drug for a fixed period of time. Once the patent expires, multiple companies can produce a generic version, resulting in lower costs for consumers. “On average, the cost of a generic drug is a quarter to one-third the cost of a brand-name drug,” said Owerbach. “The potential annual savings across upstate New York for people taking Prevacid is tens of millions of dollars.”

Other drugs whose patents are scheduled to expire in 2010 include Flomax®, Hyzaar® and Cozaar®.

• Flomax, the popular brand-name drug for the treatment of prostate enlargement, will become available as a generic early in 2010. More than 450,000 prescriptions were filled for Flomax in 2008 in upstate New York, at a cost of $51 million.

• The generic equivalents of two brand-name drugs to treat high blood pressure, Hyzaar and Cozaar, are expected to become available in April 2010. These are the first brand-name drugs in their therapeutic category (angiotensin inhibitors) to come off patent.

Measurable increases in the use of generic drugs as alternatives to higher-priced brand-name drugs produced estimated savings totaling $369 million across upstate New York in 2008, according to an analysis of prescription patterns released in January 2009 by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. This analysis and other reports on prescription drug costs are available online at under “Fact Sheets” in the “Policy and Research” section.

The Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Web site has additional educational materials and resources available, including a consumer reference guide that lists available generic drug options for a variety of common conditions. The reference guide is available at: under “Tools and Resources.”