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Report Finds Over-the-Counter Drug for Heartburn, Acid Reflux as Effective as Prescription Drugs Costing 10 Times More

Prilosec OTC Named Best Buy Drug; Savings Up to $2,000 a Year

WASHINGTON, January 22, 2007 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A widely available nonprescription drug -- Prilosec OTC -- is as effective a treatment for heartburn and acid reflux disease as prescription drugs costing almost 10 times more, according to an analysis from Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs, a public education project of Consumers Union.

"Many people with heartburn and acid reflux could save $1,000 to $2,000 a year by taking an over-the-counter drug that's just as effective as high-priced prescription drugs," said Gail Shearer, director of the Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs project.

"These are dramatic savings, and illustrate why consumers should talk to their doctors about identifying effective, lower-cost medicines," Shearer added.

The over-the-counter drug Prilosec costs $19 to $26 a month on average nationwide, and can be even cheaper at large discount stores. In contrast, the drug Nexium -- heavily advertised to both consumers and doctors -- costs $181 to $193 a month on average, depending on dose. Similarly, Prevacid costs $131 to $186 a month. Both these medicines may cost somewhat less at large discount stores.

Even people with insurance coverage could save money by choosing Prilosec OTC if their insurers cover the drug or offer coupons for it, the report says. Generally, insurers do not pay for nonprescription drugs, but many have chosen to help enrollees pay for Prilosec OTC.

Prilosec OTC, Nexium, and Prevacid are three of the five drugs in a class called Proton Pump Inhibitors, or PPIs. PPIs are among the most widely prescribed drugs in the U.S.

The report, based on a detailed evaluation of the scientific evidence, concludes that none of the PPIs is any more effective than the others in treating heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease, commonly known as GERD.

The report, available free at, is one of 16 in a series helping consumers find effective and safe medicines that give them the most value for their health-care dollar. An earlier edition of the PPI report was first released in December 2004. Other Best Buy reports compare drugs to treat depression, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma, allergies, migraines, insomnia, and overactive bladder.

The report warns that PPIs are overused among people with occasional mild heartburn. Almost everyone has heartburn once in a while, and the report advises people who have it less than once a week, and have never been diagnosed with GERD, to first try nonprescription antacids (such as Maalox, Mylanta, Rolaids, and Tums) or acid-reducing drugs such as cimetidine (Tagamet), famotidine (Pepcid), nizatidine (Axid), or ranitidine (Zantac).

If problems persist, consumers should see a doctor to see if they have GERD, a condition that makes people prone to acid reflux and whose main symptom is chronic or persistent heartburn (occurring twice a week or more for weeks or months on end). PPIs are significantly better than other drugs in treating GERD, which can cause painful damage to the esophagus.

Between a quarter and a third of adults in the U.S. will have GERD at some point in their lives. It is most common among people aged 50 and older, but can strike at any age. Pregnant women are also highly prone to GERD.

While PPIs are generally safe, troubling early studies have raised concerns about a possible link between the drugs and a higher risk of pneumonia and infection with a bacterium called C. difficile. In addition, a study published in December 2006 found that use of PPIs for more than a year may be associated with an increased risk of hip fractures.

The report urges consumers to talk with their doctors about these possible risks, weighed against the considerable benefits of appropriate PPI treatment.

Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs combines a review of the scientific evidence on the effectiveness and safety of medicines with pricing information. Every report is peer-reviewed by medical experts. The project is independently administered by Consumers Union and Consumer Reports with support from the Engelberg Foundation, a private philanthropy, and the National Library of Medicine.

CONTACT: Susan Herold of Consumers Union, +1-202-462-6262

CONTACT: Susan Herold of Consumers Union, +1-202-462-6262

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Posted: January 2007