Newer drugs are not always better or safer. They are promoted more vigorously, and patients and doctors often request them thinking a more recent drug must be an improvement.
But a 2002 study of more than 42,000 patients found that generic diuretics were not only cheaper than newer drugs, but also more effective at lowering blood pressure.
Treating high blood pressure with generic diuretics could save the U.S. health care system as much as $10 billion each year.
New drugs can also be more dangerous. As a result of advice from their staff of specially trained pharmacists, the Kaiser Permanente Health System's Drug Information Services never added the painkiller Vioxx or the MS drug Tysabri to its formulary list of covered prescription drugs. Doctors were allowed to prescribe them only if there was no alternative.
Both Vioxx and Tysabri were eventually pulled from the market; Vioxx because of increased risk of heart attack and stroke, and Tysabri because it could cause a rare neurological disease called progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, or PML.
This entry, one in a week-long series of articles by USA Today about the awesome task of reining in spiraling health care costs, once again delves into the preference by some for newer, often unproven and far more expensive drugs over cheaper, older versions of similar drugs.
New, massively hyped drugs are often no better than the older drugs they are replacing -- just more expensive for you. The profit window for a drug is considered to be the lifespan of its patent.
Once the patent runs out, the price can no longer be artificially inflated, as cheaper, generic versions of the drug can be made by other companies. So companies quickly bring other patented drugs on the market, claiming that they are newer, better, more effective, and safer than the older versions.
In fact, they are often minor variations on the older versions, changed just enough for a new patent. A drug they can sell for a higher price is much more important to them than a drug that is more effective.
Another dirty little secret of the drug companies is that their drugs' shelf lives are typically much longer than they note. They put short shelf lives on them so you will throw any older drugs away and increase their revenues by purchasing more. This is a major issue for the military and a review several years ago tore open the secrets on this issue.
If you're on the fence at all about this "shell game" the drug companies play with "new" drugs, thanks to a crippled, compromised FDA -- despite the consequences to your health -- consider the life-saving anecdote above regarding Kaiser Permanente's stance on Vioxx and Tysabri.
Makes you wonder how many patients Kaiser Permanente saved, merely by taking a closer look at the toxicity of these drugs, and how many more might still be with us had federal regulators exercised more caution.
Even this bad news has a silver lining, folks.
More people by the day are discovering how drug companies formulate their games and are choosing not to play them any more. Instead, they're beginning to take more responsibility for their health and stay away from drugs and procedures that serve the corrupt excuse that passes for conventional medicine in America.