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Money Saving Tip: Are prescription medications always better than over-the-counter drugs?

Ali Khoshnevis OD
Date:  08 August 2013

Tip #1 – Can over the counter drugs work as effectively as some prescription medications?

Most of my patients assume that if a drug is sold over-the-counter (OTC) it is not as effective as a prescription medication.  This isn’t always true.  Conditions like seasonal allergies, heartburn, dry eyes, and joint pain have very effective OTC medications; as a matter of fact, many were previously prescription drugs.

In my practice, I treat dry eyes very often.  Artificial tears are over the counter and are extremely effective when used properly alongside lid scrubs and warm compresses.  Freshkote, Systane Ultra, and GenTeal are three products that can be a more effective option for your specific type of dry eyes than a prescription drop like Restasis. 

According to Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs, for acid reflux Prilosec OTC was equally effective and as safe as Nexium (Price: $246/month) but 10x cheaper.  Prilosec is available as both a prescription and an over-the-counter drug - with no difference between the two.  But generic Prilosec (Omeprazole) is cheaper than Prilosec OTC; with the WeRx coupon you can purchase Omeprazole for as low as $14.97 for a month’s supply, whereas Prilosec OTC is between $20-$30/month. If you take this medication daily, it may be worthwhile having your doctor write for the prescription version.

Zyrtec, Claritin, and Allegra are used to treat seasonal allergies and were all prescription medications at one point.  Now those medications can be purchased over-the-counter and are very effective at treating symptoms of allergies.  As far as eye allergies go, I often recommend two over-the-counter medications (Alaway or Zaditor) for my patients, which are much cheaper than prescription drops Pataday or Lastacaft (Cost: about $130/bottle). 

The Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs analysis also showed that the effectiveness in treating joint pain of different nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) including Celebrex and Aleve is essentially the same at equal doses – the difference is the price tag: $190/month versus $13/month. 

I hope I have demonstrated that for many common ailments, which a strong solution is necessary, one doesn’t always have to pay the premium price tag to get a premium relief.

Ali Khoshnevis OD

Ali is a practicing Optometrist and the CEO of WeRx.org, a pharmacy price comparison site and app with the goal of helping patients find the lowest cost medications in their neighborhood.

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