Where can I get the best deals on OTC drugs?

Consumer Reports News: April 19, 2013 02:08 PM

Walmart and Target win out over drugstore chains like Rite-Aid, CVS, and Walgreens, as well as supermarkets, on prices for dozens of common, brand-name and generic over-the-counter drugs, according to our team of Secret Shoppers.

They recently scanned pharmacy shelves for prices on drugs, such as the allergy medications fexofenadine (Allegra), loratadine (Claritin), and cetirizine (Zyrtec), and medication to treat headaches and pain, such as ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve), as well as drugs for heartburn like famotidine (Pepcid AC) and lansoprazole (Prevacid24HR). All of those drugs are available as generics, which almost always cost less than name brands.

After visiting hundreds of stores, our shoppers found that small bottles remain the worst value, unless you have a coupon. So go small only if you're buying a drug you aren't likely to take very often. For those you take more frequently, go bigger--but not too big. We found that the smartest buy is usually not the giant bottle. Savings on medium sizes are comparable, and the drugs are less likely to expire before you get a chance to take them all.

Read more about our Best Buy Drugs reports on how to save money on prescription and over-the-counter drugs.

Here's an example: the average cost of a small bottle of Advil with 24 pills was $3.92, or 16 cents per pill, twice as much per pill as the average we paid for the medium 200-pill bottle. You'd save an additional penny per pill by buying the largest size, but that small savings would be moot if some of the bottle's contents were unused by the expiration date.

With drugstore chains, you can also find deals if you catch a sale, use coupons, and always scan your loyalty card. Drugstores might have the highest everyday prices on many items, but their loyalty programs offer lots of ways to save. Last fall, Walgreens joined CVS and Rite Aid in offering a loyalty program, Walgreens Balance Rewards, which awards points for purchases. Depending on the program, points can be used toward instant savings in the store as well as other rewards. For example, Walgreens awards 500 points for prescriptions and immunizations; 5,000 points earns you $5 to spend on a future purchase. At Rite Aid, reward points can also be used towards fitness memberships, magazine subscriptions, and health screenings.

Teresa Carr

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