Knowledge is power

I received a forwarded e-mail this week from a family member that I initially treated like so many forwarded e-mails. I found it interesting but perhaps dubious.

The message, which purportedly originated with two U.S. Department of Commerce budget analysts, said the following:

“Since the cost of prescription drugs is so outrageous, I thought everyone I knew should know about this. Please read the following and pass it on.

“It pays to shop around. This helps to solve the mystery as to why they can afford to put a Walgreens on every corner. On Monday night, Steve Wilson, an investigative reporter for Channel 7 News in Detroit, did a story on generic drug price gouging by pharmacies. He found in his investigation, that some of these generic drugs were marked up as much as 3,000% or more. Yes, that’s not a typo … three thousand percent! So often, we blame the drug companies for the high cost of drugs, and usually rightfully so. But in this case, the fault clearly lies with the pharmacies themselves For example, if you had to buy a prescription drug, and bought the name brand, you might pay $100 for 100 pills. The pharmacist might tell you that if you get the generic equivalent, they would only cost $80, making you think you are ‘saving’ $20. What the pharmacist is not telling you is that those 100 generic pills may have only cost him $10!

“At the end of the report, one of the anchors asked Mr. Wilson whether or not there were any pharmacies that did not adhere to this practice, and he said that Costco, Sam’s Club and other discount volume stores consistently charged little over their cost for the generic drugs. I went to the discount store’s website, where you can look up any drug, and get its online price. It says that the in-store prices are consistent with the online prices. I was appalled. Just to give you one example from my own experience, I had to use the drug, Comparing, which helps prevent nausea in chemo patients. I used the generic equivalent, which cost $54.99 for 60 pills at CVS. I checked the price at Costco, and I could have bought 100 pills for $19.89. For 145 of my pain pills, I paid $72.57. I could have got 150 at another discount store for $28.08. I would like to mention, that although these are a ‘membership’ type store, you do NOT have to be a member to buy prescriptions there, as it is a federally regulated substance. You just tell them at the door that you wish to use the pharmacy, and they will let you in.”

The e-mail goes on to list retail markups of various drugs from the cost of active ingredients to the consumer price, saying, for example, that the consumer price for 100 20mg tablets of Prozac (fluoxetine) is $247.47, even though the “general active ingredients” for that quantity cost a mere 11 cents. That translates to a markup of an astounding 224,973 percent.

For Xanax (alprazolam), the alleged markup for 100 tablets of the 1mg variety was 569,958 percent.

Being the good investigative reporter that I sometimes try to be, I checked it out. I don’t know where to find the information on basic active ingredients, but it’s easy enough to compare the retail prices of generic and name-brand drugs at two chain stores. lists the price of name-brand Xanax 1 mg at $318.18 for 180 tablets, or $1.77 per pill. The same dosage and quantity of generic alprazolam is $38.79, or 21.5 cents per pill.

Prozac 20mg in a quantity of 90 is priced at $374.89 ($4.17 each), while 90 generic 20mg fluoxetine capsules go for $53.89, or about 60 cents each, at the Walgreens Web site.

At, 100 tablets of 1mg Xanax will set you back $155.59. That’s $1.56 per pill, a little bit less than at Walgreens. However, the generic alprazolam 1mg is just $15.69, or 15.7 cents each, for a 27 percent savings over the Walgreens price.

For 20mg of Prozac, Costco charges $381.69 for a quantity of 100, or $3.82 per dosage. But 100 fluoxetine 20mg capsules cost a mere $11.29, or 11.3 cents each. That is more than 80 percent below the Walgreens price.

There you have it, more proof what a powerful consumer tool the Internet is. Health information, what a wonderful thing.