A study released by New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) Commissioner Gretchen Dykstra shows wide disparities in prescription drug prices, specifically in pharmacies serving more than 28,000 of NYC’s seniors in areas with large populations of retirees.

Dykstra said her department will educate seniors about high drug prices through outreach and public hearings while:

  • Exploring better disclosure requirements
  • Examining marketing practices of pharmaceutical companies and
  • Considering other initiatives such as discount cards and purchasing cooperatives.

DCA surveyed the drug prices of the ten top prescription drugs sold, including both brand and generic where applicable. 51 chain and independent pharmacies serving 12 New York City neighborhoods.

“Many consumers, especially seniors, do not have drug coverage and so the disparities found among neighborhoods in this survey are particularly troubling,” said Dykstra. “DCA is committed to using its authority to address this issue. It is imperative that senior consumers are educated on their options, that businesses disclose prices clearly and fairly, and that we seek ways to help these seniors.”

Findings include:

  • PRICES FOR THE SAME PRESCRIPTION DRUG VARIED GREATLY WITHIN THE SAME NEIGHBORHOOD.
    Within the Stanley Isaac neighborhood in Manhattan, there was at least a $20 difference between the high and low price for a significant number of drugs surveyed. For instance, Rite Aid sold Fosamex, used to treat osteoporosis, for $97.99 while Kings Pharmacy sold the drug for $69.99. Nabumetone, used for arthritis, was sold for $86.69 at Duane Reade and $49.99 at Kings Pharmacy.
  • CONTRARY TO CONVENTIONAL WISDOM, INDEPENDENT PHARMACIES WERE OFTEN CHEAPER THAN CHAINS.
    Generally, independent stores often sold prescription drugs at or near the lowest price compared to their competitors. For example, independent Warbasse Pharmacy in Coney Island sold Diltiazem, the generic for angina medicine Cardizem, for $37.65 while CVS sold it for $58.99. Little Gelt Pharmacy in Co-op City sold cholesterol medicine Zocor for $146.70 while Rite Aid sold it for $172.99.
  • DRUGSTORE CHAINS SHOWED WIDE PRICE DIFFERENTIALS FOR THE SAME DRUGS AMONG THEIR OWN STORES.
    DCA found that chain stores varied prices for the same drug among their own stores. Duane Reade sold depression medicine Zoloft for $94.39 at Phipps Plaza but $77.69 at Sisters of Charity in Staten Island.
  • GENERICS SHOWED A WIDER VARIATION IN PRICING THAN BRAND NAME DRUGS.
    There are wider price variations among the generics than among the brands. Duane Reade sells Fluoxetine, the generic alternative to Prosac, for $29.99 at Forest Hills in Queens, but for $81.99 at Parkchester in the Bronx. Duane Reade’s price for Prosac, however, is comparable at both locations showing $107.09 and $103.99, respectively.

“AARP also has a campaign designed to educate consumers about how to purchase medications more cost efficiently, and how to use medications wisely,“ said Lois Aronstein, AARP New York State Director. “We applaud the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs on its efforts to educate consumers on the complicated issues surrounding the purchase of prescription drugs.“

For NYC seniors without prescription drug coverage, there are programs available such as EPIC (Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage) – the New York State sponsored cost-sharing prescription plan for qualifying senior citizens – available to those who have an annual income of $35,000 or less if single, and $50,000 or less if married.

For more information, check the DCA Web site.