Posted 12/9/2004 9:15 PM Updated 12/10/2004 3:22 AM
Web site compares drugs for 'best buys'
The publisher of Consumer Reports launched a free Web site Thursday
to do for prescription drugs what it has already done for cars,
refrigerators and other gadgets: rate them on safety, effectiveness
The first-of-a-kind Web site — crbestbuydrugs.org — compares
drugs for high cholesterol, pain relief and heartburn, choosing
a "best buy" in each category. In the next two years,
20 categories of drugs will be analyzed.
The site may add pressure to drugmakers to demonstrate how their
products stack up against those of similar competitors. It is
part of a growing movement by employers, insurers and the government
to funnel patients to treatments, hospitals or doctors with
proven track records and cost-effective programs.
More Internet sources for drug information
"We're doing this because the cost of drugs has become
a national crisis in this country," says Joel Gurin, executive
vice president of Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports.
Choosing "best buy" drugs could save patients hundreds
each year, he says.
Medical information for the site is drawn from published studies
analyzed by a research center that is already providing the
information to 12 states for their Medicaid programs.
To be considered a "best buy," the drug must have
a safety record as good as others in the same category and be
priced significantly lower than the most costly drug.
The site says:
• Consumers who need to lower cholesterol a moderate amount
can save up to $1,300 a year by switching from brand-name cholesterol-lowering
drugs to the site's "best buy" generic, lovastatin.
The pick for those who need stronger drugs is Pfizer's Lipitor.
The site says less is known about newer drugs Lescol and Crestor,
so it does not include them in the rankings.
• Arthritis and pain sufferers could save up to $180 a month
by choosing generic ibuprofen or generic salsalate.
• Many heartburn patients could benefit from over-the-counter
products rather than prescriptions. The best-buy pick is over-the-counter
omeprazole, the generic version of Prilosec.
In recent years, the drug industry has criticized efforts to
compare drugs or limit Medicaid patients to certain products,
saying the data may be insufficient to make comparisons and
that patients should have a wide range of choices.
But private insurers commonly rank drugs on lists of "preferred
and non-preferred" drugs, often based on both medical evidence
The drug industry's trade group on Thursday gave a measured
response to the Consumer Reports site.
Spokesmen said patients should always discuss the choice of
drugs with their doctors. And the "best buy" may not
be the best for all patients, said Paul Antony, chief medical
officer for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of
"Different medicines work differently in different people,"
Although the company's drug Lipitor was chosen as a "best
buy" for patients needing extra help lowering their cholesterol,
a Pfizer spokesman had some criticisms of the site.
Robert Popovian, senior director of Pfizer's medical division,
said the site's researchers did not include all types of studies,
such as research into how patients use a drug in the real world,
not as part of a clinical trial.
Without that information, he said, patients don't know about
research showing some drugs are better tolerated by patients
"You and I can take the same drug, and we will have a different
reaction to that drug," Popovian says.
Others say the Consumers Union site does provide valuable information.
Sheila Weiss Smith, an associate professor at the University
of Maryland, says patients and their doctors will gain insight
into drug prices and effectiveness through the site. But, she
warns, consumers should read the entire report on the class
of drug they are considering, not just the short highlight page
that precedes each section.
"If you just read the highlights, you're not informed,"
The pharmacy benefit management industry, which does similar
research for insurers and employers, praised the Web site, as
well as other efforts by employers and insurers to seek comparative
data from medical providers.
"The days of the drug industry dictating which drugs work,
who should take them and what they should cost are over,"
says Mark Merritt, president of the Pharmaceutical Care Management
Website von Consumer Report