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Generic antidepressants can save consumers $1,200 a year

Thursday, Feb. 10, 2005

Low-cost generic antidepressants could save consumers $1,200 a year or more

Treatment with antidepressants today “out of balance”

(Washington, D.C.) – Three generic antidepressants are just as effective as widely-advertised brand name antidepressants and can save consumers $1,200 a year or more, according to the latest report from the Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs Project. The free, public-education project and Web site, www.CR Best BuyDrugs.org, compares prescription drugs on effectiveness, safety, side effects and cost to help consumers get the best value for their health-care dollars.
The three generics – fluoxetine, citalopram and buproprion – were selected as Best Buy Drugs from among 10 commonly prescribed antidepressants. At an average cost of $39 to $74 a month, these three medicines represent significant savings over most brand name antidepressants that can cost from about $90 a month to more than $200 a month.
The report focuses on the popular “second generation antidepressants” taken by millions of Americans every day to treat depression and other mood and emotional disorders. Prozac made this class of drugs famous and is now available as generic fluoxetine, one of the Best Buys.
The report gives consumers the information to discuss with their doctor whether an antidepressant is right for them, including information on symptoms, treatment options and side effects.
“The use of antidepressants today is out of balance,” said Joel Gurin, executive vice president of Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports. “Too many people are taking antidepressants who don’t need them, while at the same time millions of Americans who do need these medicines can’t afford the high cost.
“By describing the criteria for treatment, we hope some people – especially those with mild or short-lived depression – will talk with their doctor about whether they need to take an antidepressant,” Gurin added. “And by identifying cost-effective antidepressants, we hope people who really need one of these medicines will have an easier time paying for it.”
Gurin said the report empowers people needing an antidepressant to have a discussion with their medical professional about the most effective and affordable treatment.
A recent survey of Consumer Reports subscribers, published in the October issue of the magazine, showed why the treatment of depression with drugs needs a fresh look. The survey found higher rates of side effects with some antidepressants than industry studies have shown. It also found that 50 percent of respondents who took antidepressants had tried two or more drugs, and 10 percent had tried five or more, before finding one that worked for them.
Taking effectiveness, safety, side effects and cost into account, the CR Best Buy antidepressants at doses intended as initial treatment are:

  • Generic fluoxetine at a dose of 10 mg or 20 mg a day, costing $32 to $46 a month. The brand name versions of this medicine, Prozac and Sarafem, cost about $133 a month at these dosage levels.
  • Generic citalopram at a dose of 20 mg a day, at a cost of $63 a month. The brand version, Celexa, costs $94 a month.
  • Generic bupropion at a dose of 75 mg to 100 mg three times a day at a cost of $60 to $74 a month. The brand version, Wellbutrin, ranges in cost from $108 to $177 a month.

The report notes that 90 percent of people who take antidepressants have at least one side effect. While most people can tolerate them, an estimated 20 percent to 30 percent stop taking the medication because they find the side effects intolerable. The October Consumer Reports survey found that 40 percent of people who took antidepressants complained of adverse sexual side effects.
While the new Best Buy Drugs report focuses on the treatment of depression in adults, it notes that the FDA now requires antidepressants to carry warning labels indicating an increased risk of suicidal thinking in children and teens who take the drugs.
This warning came after Glaxo Smith Kline, the maker of paroxetine (Paxil), failed to make public three studies it conducted in 2003 showing an increase in suicidal thinking in children who took the drug compared to those taking dummy (placebo) pills. Consumers Union’s advocacy project, Prescription for Change, is pushing Congress to require drug makers to register all clinical trials and make the results public – to ensure doctors and patients have access to important side effect information.
Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs combines evidence on the effectiveness and safety of prescription drugs with national-level data on drug prices. The information on drug effectiveness is derived from the Drug Effectiveness Review Project (DERP). The Project, led by teams of physicians and researchers, compiles drug effectiveness data for states to shape prescription drug coverage choices for their Medicaid programs. Drug price information used by CU is based on average retail prices paid in cash by consumers at the pharmacy. The Best Buy Drug reports are peer-reviewed by medical experts. Previous reports, also available for free at www.CR Best BuyDrugs.org, compare drugs to treat elevated cholesterol (Statins), heartburn and acid reflux (Proton Pump Inhibitors) and arthritis pain (the non-steroidal anti-inflammatories).
In addition to the website, Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs will do significant outreach to physician, pharmacist, senior and low-income groups to get the information directly into consumers’ hands. The outreach campaign will be launched this spring in Atlanta and Sacramento.
Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs is funded in part with a major grant from the Engelberg Foundation, a charitable trust that supports a wide range of activities in the fields of healthcare, science and education. The project is also partially funded through a grant from the National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health.
Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs is one of several health projects being launched by Consumers Union, which is committed to helping consumers get credible, trustworthy information to make informed decisions about their healthcare. Details on the prescription drug advocacy campaign can be found at Consumers Union.
© Consumers Union 2005. The material in this press release is intended for legitimate news entities only; it may not be used for commercial or promotional purposes. Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports®, is an expert, independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves. To achieve this mission, we test, inform, and protect. To maintain our independence and impartiality, CU accepts no outside advertising, no free test samples, and has no agenda other than the interests of consumers. CU supports itself through the sale of our information products and services, individual contributions, and a few noncommercial grants.
Contact: Susan Herold, 202-462-6262