Prescription Drugmakers Target Coupon Clippers
June 4, 2001 (Washington) -- Like clipping coupons? It's not just about groceries and toiletries anymore. Ready to cut on the dotted lines for free depression and diabetes prescription medications?
Readers of the Washington Post today can turn to a full-page ad featuring a coupon for a "free 30-day supply" of Bristol-Myers Squibb's new Glucophage XR, a once-a-day version of its blockbuster diabetes drug Glucophage. Standard Glucophage, taken twice each day, is likely to lose its market exclusivity later in the year.
Meanwhile, various Internet sites are awash with Eli Lilly coupons for a free month's supply of its once-a-week depression drug Prozac. The older daily-dose Prozac will face competition from cheaper generic drugs in August.
In both cases, patients must obtain a doctor's prescription for the newer medication, then take it to the pharmacy for free dispensing.
"Anyone who reads the paper, you can't miss those coupons these days. "We've got to hand it to them. They've gotten their coupons out all over the place," Clay O'Dell, spokesman for the Generic Pharmaceutical Association, tells WebMD.
"The companies are trying to get their patients to switch over to these new formulations before the generic competition hits," he says. "Our position is that consumers are going to save a lot more when generics are on the market than with any coupon."
"Healthcare is not part of the mainstream free market, and taking medications is not like buying a toaster oven," says Alan Sager, PhD, professor of public health and co-director of the Health Reform Program at Boston University School of Public Health. "We don't have consumers who have access to good information about need, price, and quality."
Sager warns, "If you haven't got a free market, but pretend there is, through more and more extreme marketing techniques, you end up with clinically inappropriate care and unnecessarily high costs."
The Glucophage XR coupon isn't the only bit of controversy that Bristol-Myers Squibb has faced in marketing the diabetes drug. The firm also decided to insert consumer advertisements inside sample boxes of Glucophage that doctors give to patients, touting a "nutritional bar and beverage" that it markets.
In a family doctor journal this April, an angry Ronald Reynolds, MD, wrote that that this was an intolerable and "ugly new twist" in marketing.
The newer versions of heavy-selling drugs may, however, offer serious medical benefit.
"These once-a-day drugs are better. All things being equal, they are going to lead to better compliance and better health outcomes," says Steve Soumerai, ScD, director of the Drug Policy Research Group at Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care in Boston.
"The data are very clear that patient compliance is higher for the once-a-day dosing than [multiple-times-per-day] dosing drugs," he tells WebMD. "A huge fraction of drugs are going to elderly people with multiple chronic illnesses. They have a hard time taking their drugs properly. Taking their drugs once a day makes an enormous difference for these people."