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Prescription drug prices vary widely: Report

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The city Consumer Affairs Department says that prices of prescription drugs used by senior citizens can vary dramatically among pharmacies in the same Queens neighborhoods.

For example, Fluoxetine, a generic version of Prozac, cost $29.99 at Duane Reade at 107-16 71st Ave. in Forest Hills. The same drug cost $78.99 at Rite Aid at 71-14 Austin St., the agency reported.

The same disparity was discovered throughout all the New York City neighborhoods checked by the Consumer Affairs Department. The agency ran a check of prices of pharmacies serving more than 28,000 seniors in neighborhoods containing large numbers of seniors.

The greatest price difference citywide was in Penn South on the west side of midtown Manhattan, where Fluoxetine ranged from $101.15 to $29.99.

"The DCA surveyed the drug prices of the 10 top prescription drugs, including both brand name and generic where applicable," said Consumer Affairs Commissioner Gretchen Dykstra.

“Fifty-one chain and independent pharmacies serving 12 New York City Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities were surveyed,” Dykstra said.

“Many consumers, especially seniors, do not have drug coverage, and so the disparities found among neighborhoods in this survey are particularly troubling,” Dykstra said. “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."

Among conclusions of the survey:

• Contrary to conventional wisdom, small independent pharmacies were often cheaper than large chain drug stores.

• Prices for the same prescription drugs varied greatly within the same neighborhood.

• Drugstore chains charged widely different prices for the same drugs in their own stores depending on location. Procardia, a heart drug, cost $87.99 in Rochdale Village, but $49.99 at Co-op City in The Bronx.

Generic drugs showed a wider price variation than name brand drugs.

In Queens the survey was taken in Forest Hills Co-ops and Rochdale Village, where Procardia cost $93.67 at Variety Drugs at 169-33 137th Ave. but $48.99 at Walgreens at 127-04 Guy R. Brewer Blvd.

Prices were checked on Cardizem, Diltiazem, Fluoxetine, Fosamax, Nabumetone, Nifidipine, Norvasc, Prilosec, Procardia, Prozac, Relafen, Ticlid, Zocor and Soloft.

The Consumer Affairs Department plans public hearings to determine how best to suggest better ways for seniors to buy medicine more cost efficiently.

The Consumer Affairs Department said that for those without prescription drug coverage, there are programs available such as EPIC, or 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.

The Consumer Affairs hotline is (212) 487-4444 or www.nyc.gov/consumers

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 136.

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