27 NEWSFIRST Investigates - Prescription for Savings

Millions of Americans rely on prescription drugs everyday, but for some it's making a dent in their wallet.

The Kaiser Family Foundation says the number of prescriptions increased nearly 70 percent from 1994 to 2004. 27 NEWSFIRST decided to look at the costs of some popular prescription drugs in our special investigation: Prescription for Savings.

WKYT's Amber Philpott took to the streets, pricing prescriptions and she was shocked to find just how much of a price difference there can be at different pharmacies.

We often look for the best deals on cars and vacations, but many of us don't shop around for the best price on prescription drugs. We decided to do some checking first by phone and by foot.

We selected five popular prescriptions and checked prices at nine different pharmacies, from big chain retailers to local mom and pop pharmacies. What we found is that prices vary widely.

For a 25 mg, 30 day supply of the anti-depressant Paxil CR, we found the highest price was $131.65 and the lowest price was $98.54. That's a $33 price difference.

For Ambien, a popular sleep drug, a nearly $48 difference.

The biggest price difference we found was for Advair Diskus which is used by people with asthma. We found a nearly $73 difference.

Lipitor, a statin drug, came in at our lowest price difference at just under $20.

And for a 30 day supply of Plavix, used to prevent heart attack and stroke, we found a $51 difference.

We learned shopping around is important. Pharmacist Stan Parker says its your right as a consumer to comparison shop.

"You shouldn't assume that the pharmacy you are currently using is the lowest in town. People really need to get out, call, come by different pharmacies and get a price.," he said.

Out of nine different pharmacies, we found one where four of the five drugs we compared were significantly cheaper every time. It's a place you might think you can't go: Sam's Cub.

Typically for card-only members, anyone can have their prescription filled at the store and still receive the same low prices.

It's no secret drug prices in the U.S. are some of the highest in the world and studies show the prices are escalating.

Attorney General Greg Stumbo is trying to fight the high prices. In 2004 he filed a lawsuit against 46 pharmaceutical companies for inflating prices.

"It's like gas prices, its going to take a federal act because these are obviously things that are sold all across the nation and globe really. With the pharmaceutical companies, what you find a lot of times is the reason that they charge these exorbitant prices is because no body and no law says they can't," said Stumbo.

And while the government looks for a solution here, some Americans are turning to Canadian pharmacies where prescription drug costs can sometimes be two thirds less.

We found the drug Plavix sold for $77.95. That's a nearly $46 difference from the lowest price we found in Lexington, but it is illegal right now in the U.S. to order drugs from out of the country.

Just this week, the Senate effectively killed a plan that would allow Americans to save money by buying prescriptions drugs from Canada and other countries.

While lawmakers gave the green light for such purchases, they also voted to require that U.S. officials certify the safety and effectiveness of those drugs.

As a consumer, remember generic drugs. Most pharmacists we talked with say you should really consider talking to your doctor about them.

In one instance, we found a $121 dollar difference from the lowest price of Ambien versus its generic brand, Zolpidem.

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