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City fails to ensure fair prescription drug prices: Gioia

The accusation comes after a citywide investigation that was conducted last month by the Council's Committee on Investigation and Oversight uncovered a wide fluctuation in prices of the same prescription drugs at pharmacies throughout the five boroughs, according to Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside), who heads the panel.

Gioia said prices of the five most commonly prescribed drugs - Lipitor, Allegra, Prevacid, Norvasc, and Celebrex - were as much as 40 percent higher at some pharmacies and that many pharmacies were in violation of state consumer laws requiring drug price lists be made available to customers.

Gioia said the probe found that pharmacies in Queens had to lowest average prescription drug prices in the city and the highest on average were in Manhattan.

Along with council members Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) and Gifford Miller (D-Manhattan), Gioia wants Consumer Affairs to start posting drug prices from pharmacies citywide online.

"By posting drug prices from pharmacies citywide online we'll make it possible for New Yorkers to find the lowest cost for their prescriptions in seconds," Gioia said.

A Consumer Affairs spokesman declined to comment on the matter, saying the agency had not seen the results of the investigation.

According to Gioia, state law requires the New York State Board of Pharmacy to prepare and distribute a drug retail price list at least weekly. Pharmacies must display a sign notifying customers of the list and must show them the list if the request it.

Out of 90 pharmacies investigated, more than 70 percent did not have hard copies of the drug retail price list, less then half had a sign posted notifying consumers of the list and 26 percent refused to disclose a price quote over the phone, Gioia said.

"It's outrageous for pharmacies to take advantage of consumers by needlessly hiking prices assuming consumer ignorance," Quinn said. "Equally appalling is the fact the city agency that is charged with protecting consumers from this type of behavior has fallen down on the job, leaving customers unprotected in (a) hostile marketplace."

Among the fluctuations in drug prices, the council committee found that the average price of a monthly prescription for Lipitor is $89.48 in Manhattan, $80.49 in the Bronx, $79.85 in Staten Island, $78.28 in Brooklyn and $73.99 in Queens.

"At a time when Americans are flocking to Canada for cheap prescription drugs, New Yorkers could be saving more than 40 percent on the prescription drug purchases just by traveling to a different borough, saving some seniors more than $2,600 per year," Gioia said.

Reach Reporter Tom Nicholson by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

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