4 Prescription Drug Myths Debunked

4 Prescription Drug Myths Debunked
Scott Olson/Getty Images
By Lacie Glover

When it comes to prescription drugs, there's a lot of information out there. There's also a lot of misinformation -- and some of it could be costing you. According to the Generic Pharmaceutical Association, Americans spent over $325 billion on prescription medications in 2012, a number that is expected to rise in coming years. Billions of dollars could be saved on prescriptions (and better spent elsewhere), but not everyone understands why.

Here are some of the most common and costly myths surrounding prescription drugs, along with the truth behind them.

"My doctor prescribed it, so I must need it."

Your doctor has years of training and medical expertise and can be a trusted source of information, but doctors aren't perfect. Their values vary widely, and some may prescribe drugs when they aren't needed -- or worse, not check to see if they interact negatively with your current drugs. Recent research suggests that medicine is often prescribed in the U.S. when other interventions may be more appropriate. These could be relatively simple interventions, like making changes in diet and exercise.

There are a few simple steps you can take to avoid being overprescribed or misprescribed a medication. First, make sure you keep a list of your current medications and any side effects you experience, so you can inform your doctor. Second, let your doctor know at the beginning of the appointment that you'd like to have as few prescriptions as possible while still maintaining your health and that you're open to lifestyle adjustments. Lastly, make sure you understand the need for any new medication. You should never passively agree to a treatment regimen before understanding why you're using it.

"Brand-name drugs are more expensive because they're better."

It's easy to understand why this myth exists, since generic drugs aren't as heavily advertised as brand-name drugs. In truth, brand-name drugs cost much more (about 80 to 85 percent, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) because the pharmaceutical companies selling them spent billions of dollars and many years conducting research to prove the drugs are safe and will work as intended. As a sort of compensation for that investment, the FDA grants a company exclusivity to sell the drug for a period after it is approved.

At the end of the exclusivity period, which varies depending on the type of drug, other companies can manufacture and sell the drug. Since they just have to find the formulation of the active ingredient, generics companies are able to sell the drug at a fraction of the cost. Because brand names are already widely recognizable thanks to years of advertising and exclusivity, the original manufacturer can keep charging higher prices even after research costs have been recouped. Often, the original company will manufacture both the brand-name version and generic version of the drug in the same factory and sell both.

%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%"The FDA allows a 45 percent difference in effectiveness between generic and brand-name medication."

Along with the previous myth, this one stops a lot of people from inquiring about generics. The truth is that the FDA requires the same potency, efficacy, safety and quality for all drugs with the same active ingredient, whether they are brand-name or generic drugs. In fact, when it comes to generics and their brand-name counterparts, the only differences the FDA allows are with inactive ingredients, such as preservatives and binding agents, and those that affect appearance.

Those inactive ingredients may cause side effects in some people, but this is equally likely for the inactive ingredients in brand-name drugs. People most likely to experience these side effects are those with known allergies to foods or other drugs. For most individuals, however, generic drugs will work just as well as brand-name drugs, and switching can save a lot of money. In 2012 alone, generics saved American consumers about $217 billion.

"Newer drugs are better than drugs that have been on the market for years."

This myth isn't entirely false. Advances in science and technology have paved the way for a variety of drugs on the market. For instance, safe and effective daily oral pills are now available for diseases like multiple sclerosis, for which only injectables were available until recently. While this is great for MS sufferers, the success isn't necessarily transferable to other diseases. For those suffering with a frustrating or painful illness, the allure of a new drug can be enticing, even if the disease is currently well managed.

Yes, it takes a long time and a lot of research to make sure a drug is safe and effective before the FDA approves it, but data collection doesn't stop there. Even after a drug is approved, adverse reactions and serious adverse events are sometimes reported through the FDA's MedWatch system, and manufacturers update the product's labeling accordingly. Sometimes, the FDA requires additional package warnings or even reverses drug approval if new data are strong enough. The truth is that the longer a drug is on the market, the more data are available to back its safety.

Lacie Glover writes for NerdWallet Health. She has a background in chemical and clinical research and aims to empower consumers to find high quality, affordable health care. Glover is a blogger for Eat+Run. You can follow her on Twitter @LacieJaeGlo, connect with her on LinkedIn or circle her on Google Plus.

More from U.S. News

12 Ways to Save Money by Going Green
See Gallery
4 Prescription Drug Myths Debunked
Strategic planting of trees can reduce an unshaded home's air conditioning costs 15 percent to 50 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, which has tips on landscaping for shade. Some tility companies offer customers free trees throughout the year, and some local governments give away trees as part of Arbor Day celebrations. For $10, you can join the Arbor Day Foundation and get ten free trees. Plus, your membership entitles you to a 33% discount on trees when you buy online from the foundation.
By leaving your car at home two days a week, you can reduce your greenhouse gas emissions by more than 3,000 pounds a year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Plus, you'll save money on gas and parking if you bike rather than drive to work. For example, you'll save about $7 a day by biking rather than driving if you have a 15-mile round-trip commute. The How Much Can I Save Biking to Work? Tool analyzes your financial benefits. If biking isn't an option, you still can drive less by organizing a carpool, using public transportation or walking.
You can save an estimated 10 percent a year on heating and cooling costs by installing a programmable thermostat, according to the Energy Department. Save energy in the winter by setting the thermostat (which costs as little as $20) to 68 degrees while you're awake and programming it for a lower temperature while you're asleep or away from home. Set it for 78 degrees in the summer and increase the temperature when you're not home. You can shave 1 percent off your bill for each degree you decrease the temperature in the winter or increase it in the summer. And, no, you won't have to use more energy to warm or cool your house off when you get home. That's a common misconception, according to the Energy Department.
The meat industry generates about one-fifth of the world's man-made greenhouse gas emissions, according to estimates from the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization. So if your family skipped eating steak once a week, it would be the equivalent of taking your car off the road for nearly three months, according to the Earth Day Network. And you'd save money. For example, a sirloin steak costs twice as much per pound as chicken breasts and nearly five times as much as beans, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
You can save $70 a year on your energy bill by replacing the light bulbs in five of your most frequently used fixtures with Energy Star qualified LED or CFL bulbs, according to the EPA. These bulbs use 75 percnet less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs and last ten to 25 times longer.
You can save money on your water bill by installing water-efficient faucets, showerheads and toilets. Look for products with the WaterSense label, which means they are certified to be at least 20 percent more efficient without sacrificing performance. For example, WaterSense-labeled toilets can save a family of four more than $90 annually on their water bill and $2,000 over the toilet's lifetime, according to the EPA. Considering you can get a toilet with the WaterSense label for as little as $98, it will pay for itself in about a year. Estimate your savings with this simple calculator.
Americans discard more than 2 million tons of obsolete electronic products annually, according to the EPA. Rather than fill the dump with your unwanted gadgets, fill your wallet by selling them. Sites such as BuyMyTronics.comGazelleNextWorth and uSell pay cash -- and cover the cost of shipping -- for electronics such as smartphones, tablets, computers and more. The type of electronics you can sell varies by site, as does the amount you can receive. If none of the sites will accept your unwanted electronics, see the EPA's eCycling list for responsible electronics recyclers.
Americans spend $5.25 billion on fertilizers for their lawns, according to the EPA. Yet, you can get fertilizer for free by composting leaves, grass clippings, vegetable scraps and other organic waste. Plus, composting can divert as much as 30 percent of household waste from the garbage can, according to Eartheasy's guide to composting.
You may be able to cut your water costs a little by installing rain barrels at downspouts to collect water. You can attach a hose to the barrels to water your lawn and garden. The cost can be free (from some water departments), cheap (a recycled large plastic trash can or metal drum) or expensive (about $100 for a 50-gallon barrel at home and garden centers and online.
You're doing your health a favor by drinking water rather than soda. But if you're buying bottled water, you're not doing your wallet or the environment a favor. According to the International Bottle Water Association, Americans spent $11.8 billion on bottled water in 2012. Considering that the average cost per bottle is $1.45 and the average consumer buys 167 bottles a year, you'll spend more than $240 a year on bottled water at that rate. For the cost of just a few disposable bottles of water you can buy a reusable bottle that you can fill and carry with you wherever you go.
Clothes dryers can be one of the most expensive home appliances to operate, accounting for approximately 6 percent of a home's total electricity usage, according to the California Energy Commission's Consumer Energy Center. Because all dryers use about the same amount of energy, the best way to save money -- and benefit the environment -- is to line-dry your clothes whenever you can.
Energy vampires –- electronics that draw power even when they're not in use –- cost Americans almost $10 billion a year and account for almost 11 percent of all U.S. energy use, according to the EPA. If you want to avoid unplugging all of your electronics when they're not in use, you can buy an inexpensive power strip that several things can be plugged into and turned off with the flip of a switch. The Smart Strip Power Strip ($25 and up) will automatically shut off computer peripherals, such as printers and scanners, when not in use. And the Belkin Conserve Smart AV ($29.99) automatically shuts off components, such as a gaming console, receiver and speakers, when you turn off your TV.
Read Full Story