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Buying Drugs Online

By Michael D. Towle
WebMD Feature

May 1, 2000 (Washington, D.C.) -- Industry and consumer studies show that, compared with filling prescriptions at the corner drug store, ordering drugs online can cut costs considerably. A Consumer Reports study found that savings can reach 25% or more.

The key, experts say, is to shop around and to stay away from the often pricey sites that offer to sell "lifestyle" drugs such as Viagra and Propecia without a visit to your doctor's office. Those sites can charge as much as double the usual cost of such drugs.

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Q: Are generic versions of drugs really just as good (and safe) as their brand-name counterparts? A: Yes, for many reasons. Today, almost half of all prescriptions in the United States are filled with generic drugs. They are less expensive and often require a lower co-pay if you have insurance, which could mean big cost savings for you. Generic drug manufacturers don’t have the initial investment costs associated with development of a new drug. Original manufacturers are given a patent...

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But for most medications, all customers need to beat the price at the local pharmacy is a mouse and a credit card. Here's what WebMD found when we went shopping in mid-April:

  • Thirty tablets of the top-selling cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor cost about $74 at an offline pharmacy, but the same quantity at an online drugstore can go for anywhere from $49.88 to $51.60.
  • The popular depression drug Prozac will cost $100 for thirty 10-milligram tablets at a brick-and-mortar pharmacy, but $70.95 to $71.51 online.
  • Thirty 10-milligram tablets of Prilosec, a drug for ulcers and heartburn, sells for $105.99 online. At the store down the street, those same pills are likely to cost you $134.
  • Claritin-D 12 Hour, the allergy medication, usually costs about $50 for thirty 10-milligram doses, according to our informal survey. One online pharmacy sells the same prescription for $36.47, but not every site is cheaper -- another web site charges $68.26.
  • Zocor, another cholesterol-lowering medication, will likely cost about $85 locally for a 10 milligram, 30-pill prescription, but online it would be $55.91.

Don't forget to include shipping expenses in your online prescription comparisons. Although the cost of delivery by standard mail is nominal at many sites, and free at others, it can become quite expensive if you need overnight delivery.

Michael D. Towle is based in Chantilly, Va., and writes regularly on health and legal issues for WebMd.

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