Over the course of our investigation, hundreds of consumers shared their stories about their struggles to deal with rising drug prices. We talked to people who were forced to cut back on their medications—or forgo them entirely—or who had to cut other necessities from family budgets to be able to afford medications. Here we've highlighted three situtations where, with advice from our medical experts, we were able to recommend solutions that would make medications more affordable. 

Problem #1: Two Old Drugs Combine to Become a Single Costly ‘New’ Drug

In 2013 Susan Umbaugh, 71, of Rogers, Ark., received a free sample of a drug called Treximet for migraine pain. The drug worked well, so Umbaugh got a three-month supply (27 pills) for $92; her insurance covered the remaining $679. In less than a year, when she went to refill the same prescription, she was charged $827 and her insurer had to pay $1,053. Now she can’t afford to refill her prescription as often, so she’s using less and hopes it will last all year. “After that, I don’t know [what I’ll do] since it’s so expensive.”

The Reason: GlaxoSmithKline created the “new” drug, Treximet, by combining two older generic drugs—sumatriptan, the generic of Imitrex; and naproxen, the generic of Aleve—into one pill. In 2014 the company sold Treximet to Pernix Therapeutics, which more than doubled its price.

The Fix: There’s no generic of Treximet, but its two main ingredients are available as generics with similar dosing. We found naproxen 500 mg for $4 at Walmart and a three-month supply of various doses of sumatriptan for less than $45 at HealthWarehouse.com. ­Umbaugh could save as much as $790 for a three-month supply.


Problem #2: No Limit on How High Drug Companies Can Raise Prices

Sherry Ackley, 47, of Raleigh, N.C., is allergic to bee stings. To protect her from having a reaction—blacking out or fainting, and thus potential injury from falling—her doctor told her to carry an EpiPen—a self-injectible form of epinephrine that quickly reduces severe allergy symptoms. She took the prescription for the EpiPen to a pharmacy, which quoted her a price of $525, which she would have to pay entirely; her insurance kicks in only after she pays $10,000 out of pocket. “I told the pharmacist I couldn’t afford it.” So Ackley left the prescription behind. To avoid bees, she now spends most of her time indoors, although she loves gardening.

The Reason: Epinephrine dates back to the early 1900s and costs pennies to make. EpiPen has a unique, patented, self-injectable syringe system. Since drug company Mylan purchased EpiPen in 2007, the price increased by about 450 percent. No generic version of EpiPen is available.

The Fix: A cheaper epinephrine injector called Adrenaclick is an option. It’s not the same technology, nor is it administered exactly like EpiPen, but it’s the same drug. We found it for $138 at Walmart using a GoodRx coupon.



Problem #3: Change in Insurance Coverage Makes Price Go Up

Dawn Conrow’s 12-year-old daughter in Chesapeake, Va., received a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and has been taking Vyvanse to treat it, which works well. With the family’s insurance, the drug co-pay is $50. But two weeks ago Dawn’s husband lost his job, and the family then lost their health insurance coverage. Without insurance, the drug costs $293 per month.

The Reason: There is no generic of Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine). Even with a manufacturer’s discount of $60, the family cannot afford the medication. Conrow was considering taking her daughter off the drug for the summer. “If I have to choose, I’ll give her the medication during the school year,” she says.

The Fix: With the family’s doctor, Conrow’s daughter could consider trying an older generic, dextroamphetamine, which, according to the manufacturer’s FDA-approved drug label, is what Vyvanse becomes once it’s metabolized in the body. Dextro­amphetamine may have to be taken several times per day (Vyvanse is taken just once) and may have other side effects. We found it for about $22 per month at a Target in Chesapeake, Va., when using a coupon from GoodRx.

The Way To Save On Your Prescription Drugs: Speak Up

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the August 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

Funding for the preparation of this article was provided in part by the Atlantic Philanthropies and by a grant from the state Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program, which is funded by the multistate settlement of consumerfraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin (gabapentin).