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How to save money on your medication

How to save money on medicines

What you are about to learn could save you 30-80% of the money spent on buying medicines. A rapid survey was done and a top reason why treatments were not completed was due to the high costs of medicines, especially those bought at a pharmacy.

The 2nd most popular reason was people do not see the need to continue treatment if they feeling better.

As for high cost of medicines, this has driven many to resort to drug hawkers (roadside medicines), the dangers of this is a story for a different day. It is even more dangerous in the case of antibiotics where a patient will struggle and buy a pack of antibiotics that can last say 5 days and never come back for the next pack for a full treatment.

 It doesn’t have to be so

A lot is done at the moment to make medications more available.

  • Not every illness needs a drug: not all headaches need a paracetamol…simple right?               
  • Buy medicines from public or non-profit pharmacies: the government (public) usually subsidizes prices of drugs and also are exempted from taxes, unlike pharmacies who have to pay taxes hence more expensive.              
  • Discuss with your health care provider if cheaper alternatives are available for the medicines prescribed. Now this one is not so simple, read slowly so you can really understand. This is the real deal on saving money on medicines.                               

If you walk into a pharmacy with your prescription that has say DOLIPRANE 1000mg, and unfortunately they do not have DOLIPRANE 1000mg…you will hear something like “we however have EFFERALGAN  1000mg …it is the same thing, just made by different laboratories” You are skeptical and want to stick to the doctors prescription. They go on to show you both packaging.  

Notice anything?

Well every medicine has what we call the active ingredient, that which actually causes the effect needed. Paracetamol is the active ingredient in the above example.

The Brand name (trade name) is usually written in much bigger characters and it varies per company that produces it. In the example above..Doliprane is poduced by Sanofi aventis and Efferalgan by UPSA

Under the brand names we have the generic name of the drug…somewhat the international name of the drug.

What you really need to pay attention to when buying any drug is the smaller names. It can also help you prevent an overdose.

Had a case where a patient wanted Doliprane for the headaches he had as a result of a cold. He was however taking Litacold, a medication for cold that already has paracetamol in it. You get it now?

 So yes, the pharmacist was right, it is the same drug, just sold by different industries and with different names. What the pharmacist doesn’t always tell is that this same trick can help you save cost on your medicines. When your prescribed medication is too expensive for you, simple ask the pharmacist for cheaper alternatives of the same drug (generics).

The major challenge I faced when trying to propose these alternatives to patients is they wonder why the generics are way cheaper.

Say the prescribed medicine is 10,000 XAF and the pharmacist proposes an alternative of 1,000 XAF, the first reaction is no…I think the one that is more effective is the more expensive one. They leave without getting the medication with phrases like “please let me go see how to raise 10,000 XAF to get the medicine the doctor prescribed”.

Let me explain why some medicines are usually more expensive than their alteratives. It takes a lot of money, time and human resources for research before a drug is produced and more money to market the product.

So a company discovers a medicine, patents it and have exclusive rights for a given period (e.g 7years) where they are the only ones to produce that drug. The drug is sold expensive to cover costs of research.

When patent period is over, other industries can apply to produce that same drug and given they did not spend as much money on research, the drugs become cheaper and with competition, price reduces further.

The same checks to approve the first drug are done on the generic drugs so same quality assured.

So not true given it is the same active ingredient (e.g. paracetamol) and the same dosage form (e.g tablets) and strength (e.g. 1000mg). They also have the same directions for use.  Generics do not take longer to work.

NOT ALL drugs can be easily switched to cheaper alternatives for safety reasons. There are a few drugs known as Narrow Therapeutic Index drugs …big term to mean the line between its beneficial and harmful effects is very thin.

So it is best when you start with a certain brand, you stick with it or discuss with your doctor/pharmacist before switching. Some examples of such drugs are those used for seizures, blood thinner, and heart arrhythmia (among others).

 So when next you walk into a pharmacy and the prices are way too high, ask for generic (cheaper) alternatives and save some money.

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Ekwoge Hilda

Dr. Ekwoge Hilda is a trained pharmacist from Cameroon and Co-founder of HILPharma. When she is not busy creating content, she slings pills to pay the bills.

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