How to Penny-Pinch on Prescriptions

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Heavily advertised drugs usually aren’t the best first choice for health problems, according to the free Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs program, which evaluates drug treatments for many common conditions based on effectiveness, safety and cost. (For details, go to

Newer drugs are seldom more effective than older medications. Their shorter track record makes their safety less certain. And they almost always cost more, since they’re rarely available as generics. This helpful table shows how you could save up to $275 a month by using a comparable dose of a Best Buy Drug rather than a top brand-name drug. (People respond differently to drugs, so if you don’t get better with a recommended drug, talk with your doctor about switching.)

Time-tested treatments

Ask your doctor if you might benefit from any of these treatments:

Salsalate for arthritis
Once a commonly used prescription pain reliever, this chemical cousin of aspirin was eclipsed in the 1990s by the huge marketing push for other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). But it’s still an effective and inexpensive choice for pain relief, which is why it qualifies as a Consumer Reports Best Buy Drug.

Topical pain relievers
Although widely used in other countries, medicated creams and patches aren’t as popular in the U.S. That’s a shame because experts at the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality recently concluded that topical NSAIDs were just as effective as pills at relieving the pain of osteoarthritis. Topical treatments can cause skin reactions, but pills affect the stomach and blood more. Over-the-counter creams include Aspercreme and Myoflex.

Diuretics for high blood pressure
An extensive body of research shows that diuretics such as hydrochlorothiazide (HydroDiuril and generic) or chlorothiazide (Diuril and generic) lower blood pressure just as well as newer and more expensive alternatives—including ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers and calcium-channel blockers. And they are more likely to prevent heart failure and stroke. Yet many physicians still regularly prescribe those other drugs, especially for people with other cardiovascular risk factors, such as high blood sugar or cholesterol levels. A major study has confirmed that diuretics are superior, even for people in those groups.

Controlling conditions that aggravate asthma
Besides getting treatment, people with asthma should rid their environment of allergens. You can also ease symptoms by shedding excess pounds and treating sleep apnea.

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