Save Money on Over-the-Counter Drugs

By Temma Ehrenfeld @TemmaEhrenfeld
June 05, 2015

The store-brand version of a medication may cost a third to half less than the brand-name.

When you’re buying a medication without a prescription, you can save money if you choose a bottle that carries the label of the drug store or grocery store where you’re shopping. That’s what the most-informed buyers do — pharmacists.

Pharmacists choose store-brand headache remedies over a name-brand 91 percent of the time, according to a 2014 study (“Do Pharmacists Buy Bayer?”) by an international team of economists that analyzed shopping behavior for 50 retail healthcare products and 241 food and drink items. The only healthcare product that inspires pharmacists to favor the name brand is contact lens solution, the study found.

Americans are wasting an estimated $44 billion a year on name brands, which cost significantly more than store-brand equivalents, the authors concluded.

It may feel strange to stray from a name brand, but you can raise your comfort level if you think about medications the way you might think about staples like salt, sugar, and baking powder. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets standards for medications. All manufacturers must meet the same requirements for their facilities. The store-brand drug won’t look exactly the same, and may contain different flavors and fillers, but by law, it must have the same active ingredients in the same strength. Those active ingredients affect your symptoms.

For example, the active ingredient of Prilosec, the acid reducer, is omeprazole. At CVS.com, a 20 mg. tablet of omeprazole in a package of 14 costs 74.9 cents, compared to 92.8 per tablet if the package is labeled Prilosec.

You’ll sometimes find you have to buy more of the store brand, but will still save money. Advil contains ibuprofen, a pain reliever and fever reducer. CVS.com sells 150 coated 200 mg tablets for $8.79, which comes to 5.9 cents each. Under the Advil name, the same website offers 100 tablets at the same strength for $9.49, or 9.5 cents per tablet.

The manufacturer Perrigo, which makes store-brand drugs, reports that you can save from 18 to 60 percent if you choose a store brand, or 36 percent on average. To get these savings for yourself without too much confusion, ask your pharmacist to write down a list of the names of the active ingredients in the brands you use frequently. Your next money-saving step may be to stock up on a package that contains more pills, as long as you estimate you’ll use up the medication before the expiration date.

Here’s a few more: Tylenol contains acetaminophen, a pain reliever. Allegra is fexofenadine, which relieves allergy symptoms. You can get store-brand nicotine lozenges and gum that work the same way as Nicorette products.

The FDA doesn’t test herbs, vitamins, and other supplements or “alternative medicine” remedies, which means you can’t count on those products to contain active ingredients at the labeled strength, or easily compare one product to another. Don’t spend your money blindly: look for independent testing by companies like labdoor.com or consumerlab.com


June 05, 2015

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN