WASHINGTON -- Nexium and other brand-name medicines are no better for most heartburn sufferers than a drug that can be bought for much less and without a prescription, Consumer Reports said Thursday as it added prescription medicines to the products it reviews.
Nonprescription Prilosec OTC can be bought for a fifth the cost of the next cheapest drug in its category, Consumer Reports said.
It launched its Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs Web site with comparisons of three kinds of widely used medicines: proton pump inhibitors for heartburn and acid reflux disease, cholesterol-reducing statins and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for pain.
The review singled out Lipitor, Pfizer's top-selling cholesterol drug, for people who have had a heart attack or need to reduce their cholesterol by 40 percent or more. But for patients with less serious conditions, generic lovastatin works as well as Lipitor at a third its cost, Consumer Reports said.
Among the pain relievers, generic medicines ibuprofen and salsalate are much cheaper than brand-name counterparts Celebrex and Bextra, and work as well, it said.
The service, giving consumers the same type of analysis now provided on such items as refrigerators and cars, is available for free.
"We're doing this because we really see drug treatment and the price of prescription drugs as a major consumer issue," said Joel Gurin, executive vice president of Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports.
Dr. Mark McClellan, the Medicare chief, praised the effort in a meeting with the consumer organization this week, Medicare spokesman Gary Karr said. Medicare's Web site tells patients of lower-priced alternatives when they enter information about their prescriptions.
"Anytime consumers can get information from a wide variety of sources, that's a good thing," Karr said.
Drug makers reacted warily to the new service, cautioning that medicines are not the same as other consumer products.
"It's troubling that Consumer Reports recommends what it believes is the most effective drug in a class. There is no way it can make that determination," Pfizer spokesman Jack Cox said. "Medicines, like the patients they treat, are not one size fits all."
Jim Coyne, a spokesman for Nexium maker AstraZeneca, said studies show the drug is more effective at healing damage to the esophagus caused by acid reflux disease.
And Jeff Trewhitt, spokesman for the trade and lobbying group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said, "Patients often respond differently to the same medicine. It's important for health care professionals to choose the medicines that meet the needs of individual patients."
Consumer Reports agreed, saying in its analysis of each class of drugs that its reviews are "not meant to substitute for a doctor's judgment."
Still, the organization said it was presenting information that could save patients up to $200 a month on heartburn medicines, $180 a month on pain relievers and $100 a month on statins.
For the cholesterol drugs, it also suggested that patients ask doctors to consider prescribing double the dose. Patients could then split the pills in half, saving $58.50 a month on Lipitor, it said.
Consumer Reports relied on drug safety and effectiveness reviews done for 12 states by the Center for Evidence Based Policy. The center is part of the Oregon Health and Science University.
On the Net:
Consumer Reports drug reviews: http://www.crbestbuydrugs.org/
Drug Effectiveness Review Project: http://www.ohsu.edu/drugeffectiveness/de...