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5 Bad Ways to Try to Cut Drug Costs

1. Don’t Use a Friend’s Medicine Cabinet

“Taking other people’s medications is a really bad way to save money,” says Sagall. The drugs you find in your friend’s stash may be expired, may be the wrong dose, and may react with something else you’re taking. Plus, taking someone else’s prescriptions is illegal. “There are usually specific reasons why a doctor prescribes pill A and not pill B to their patient,” says Sagall. 

2. Don’t Insist on Brand Name Drugs

In the old days, drug companies sent information to physicians, who then decided what drugs to prescribe to their patients. Now television and magazine ads use images of active grandparents or amorous couples to promote prescription drugs directly to patients. No matter how attractive the models, the advertised drug may not be the best match for your particular condition. And there's probably a less expensive alternative to the drug advertised on TV.

3. Don’t Assume Herbal Supplements Are Safe or Adequate

Because they’re natural, it’s easy to equate herbal supplements with a green, leafy salad. In fact, herbal supplements are not regulated like medications, and some could pose a real danger. “Some of the herbals have the same drug interactions and possibility of adverse reactions as prescription medicines,” says Sawaya. “Those things need to be monitored by a doctor.”

4. Don’t Keep Switching Pharmacies

You might switch pharmacies to get a better deal, but doing so repeatedly undermines the checks and balances meant to protect your safety. The history of your prescriptions creates a profile of your health in a pharmacy’s computer system. Pharmacy computers are programmed to catch errors such as potential drug interactions so the pharmacist can intervene. “If you’re moving around from pharmacy to pharmacy, the computer system is less likely to catch things like that,” says Sawaya.   

5. Don’t Buy Drugs from “Rogue” Internet Pharmacies

Online sales of counterfeit prescription drugs is a booming global business. By operating under the radar, groups posing as legitimate pharmacies get away with selling fake drugs, expired drugs, or the wrong drug in the name of a buck.  

Officials are starting to come down hard on counterfeit drug operations. In 2011, the U.S. and 80 other countries launched a worldwide operation targeting rogue Internet pharmacies. Within 10 days, almost 13,500 web sites were shut down and 2.4 million illegal and counterfeit pills from 48 countries were confiscated. This is good news for consumers, but don’t let down your guard too soon. It’s safe to assume rogue pharmacies will be online for some time to come.