Magazine article Reason

Prescription for Savings

Magazine article Reason

Prescription for Savings

Article excerpt

As the Food and Drug Administration loosens its hold on prescription drugs, Americans increasingly are medicating themselves with products they buy over the counter. A recent study by the consulting firm Kline & Company finds they're saving some $10 billion a year by avoiding extra insurance costs, doctor's appointments, and time lost from work.

Hydrocortisone, used to treat minor skin irritations, and antihistamines such as chlorpheniramine are just a few of the more than 400 drugs switched from prescription to over-the-counter status in recent years. Drug companies are expected to ask the FDA to switch an additional 70 or so drugs, including the popular sinus medication Seldane and a number of ulcer drugs, within the next few years.

In a 1983 paper in the Journal of Health Economics, MIT economist Peter Temin estimated that the economic benefits of making hydrocortisone available over the counter "exceeded the costs by over $200 million in 1980 and $400 million in 1981."

The switch also relieved discomfort that might otherwise have gone untreated: The first year hydrocortisone was available over the counter, non-prescription sales were about double the prescription sales, which remained about the same as the previous year's. Temin concluded that "the switch apparently allowed a new class of consumers to use hydrocortisone."

Because prescription drugs are closely monitored by drug companies and health professionals, their effectiveness and safety are well documented before they are switched to over-the-counter status. …

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