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Unlocking drug makers' secrets: Cheaper substitutions to costly prescription drugs

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (WPEC) - With prescription drug costs going up and insurance companies’ coverage going down, some families are forced to make tough choices, choosing between paying bills or taking medication.

In many cases, you can substitute the prescription or over-the-counter medication for a cheaper version of the same drug.

Some of these substitutions can save you hundreds of dollars every month for things like diabetes, high blood pressure, migraines and even dieting.

It’s all about breaking down the ingredients.

COSTLY DIABETES MEDICINE

Nine-year-old Dylon Smith is full of energy with a love of playing volleyball and riding his scooter after school. You would never guess he has diabetes and is dependent on medication to stay alive. For his mom, Melissa Smith, the cost adds up quickly.

“You drop off your scripts and walk away with $750 to $1,000 worth of medications,” Smith said. “So, you have to reprioritize how diabetes is going to fit into your usual household.”

This year alone, prescription drug costs are expected to jump 11.6 percent. That’s up from last year, and there’s no end in sight. So, with prices on the rise, CBS12 Investigates looked into substitutes you can take to help cut costs.

We asked Dawn Rantinella, lead pharmacist with Center City Pharmacy in West Palm Beach, to help us.

ACTIVE INGREDIENTS

Rantinella said there are inexpensive over-the-counter and prescription substitutes you can take instead of those costly medications. Often times you can buy the active ingredient in the brand-name drugs for less.

“Most of the time it is the same drugs. It is just they combine them together, and make one big drug, so the drug companies can then charge a brand-name cost,” Rantinella said.

For instance, Rantinella said for high blood pressure, instead of Benicar HCT, you can take the two active ingredients, Olmesartan and Hydrochlorothiazide. The substitution would save hundreds a month.

“So, if you’re getting the same medication that you’re in the brand name, there’s really no need to pay that higher price, especially if you’re on a budget,” Rantinella said.

Instead of buying the diet pill Contrave for hundreds a month, Rantinella said you can take the two ingredients Bupropion and Naltrexone for less than $30 a month.

And instead of the diabetes medication Avandament, Rantinella said you take a combination of Avandia and Metformin for just $14.

TALK WITH YOUR DOCTOR

Smith said she would be hesitant to try any alternatives because her son’s life depends on the medication.

“Is that something that is really an alternative for me, or am I better off staying with what I have?” Smith said.

Rantinella said with any prescription drug or cheaper substitution, it is always best to ask your doctor first. You will need to confer with your doctor since these substitutions are prescription medications.

Rantinella said the only time she would not recommend a substitute for a cheaper medication is if the patient already knew he or she was allergic to it.

POSSIBLE SUBSTITUTIONS

Rantinella says the following are possible substitutions you can take to save money, but you should discuss them with your doctor first:

  • Actoplus Met - instead take combination of Actos and Metformin
  • Avandamet - instead take combination of Avandia and Metformin
  • Avandaryl - instead take combination of Avandia and Glimepiride
  • Duetact - instead take combination of Actos and Glimepiride
  • Glucovance - instead take combination of Glyburide and Metformin
  • Janumet - instead take combination of Januvia and Metformin
  • Metaglip - instead take combination of Glipizide and Metformin
  • PrandiMet - instead take combination of Prandin and Metformin
  • Lotrel - instead take combination of Amlodipine and Benazepril
  • Exforge - instead take combination of Amlodipine and Valsartan
  • Twynsta - instead take combination of Amlodipine and Telmisartan
  • Avalide - instead take combination of Irbesartan and HCTZ
  • Diovan HCT - instead take combination of Valsartan and HCTZ
  • Hyzaar - instead take combination of Losartan and HCTZ
  • Benicar HCT - instead take combination of Olmesartan and Hydrochlorothiazide
  • Contrave - instead take combination of Bupropion and Naltrexone
  • Treximet - instead take combination of Naproxen and Sumatriptan

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