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Special report Over-the-counter savings

You can save big by buying off-brand and store-brand drugs.

Cut nonprescription drug costs

Buy drugs at discount prices

It can take persistence and some time to hunt down the lowest price product, but the hunt can be worth it, as prices can differ by 50 percent to 60 percent, or even more in the case of an OTC drug such as aspirin, where pricing, competition and consumer awareness have driven prices down considerably during the past few years.

For other products, especially products that combine several medications in one package, price differences aren't so large. Findlay terms this "shadow pricing," where one product is priced only 10 percent or 15 percent lower than a competing product. Where the pricing difference isn't significant, many consumers will opt for the brand name over the slightly less expensive off-brand name.

Comparison pricing can really reap benefits for consumers.

"The advice we give to consumers is that it pays to go to several different pharmacies and price the various alternatives, because in most cases you'll be able to save more money as some pharmacies will price the off-brands more cheaply than others," Findlay says.

Combination medications
Drug companies have invested millions of dollars in creating and marketing different versions of their products that combine several different active ingredients in one medication. Such combination medications are aimed at dealing with illnesses and conditions with multiple symptoms.

From the standpoint of the pharmacist, combination medications aren't always the best alternatives for treating ailments, although consumers tend to prefer them.

"Many consumers are overmedicating themselves because in many cases they don't need all those different active ingredients that are in a combination medication," says Karbowicz. "This is another case where the pharmacist can help you find the best medication."

Jenkins agrees, saying that consumer convenience and savvy marketing are behind the trend toward more combination medications.

"It's funny because I actually bought the Neosporin the other day that contains pain relieving ingredients, even though as a pharmacist I know the pain relieving properties aren't that significant for something like a skinned knee; but as a parent I'm thinking it might be more palatable to my child," she says.

-- Posted: Sept. 28, 2007
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