AG Finds Drug Prices Vary Wildly Across State

    LANSING — If you’re vacationing up north this summer and need a drug prescription refilled, don’t expect to pay as much as you did in Grand Rapids — or Flint or Detroit.

    In fact, a recent survey conducted by Attorney General Jennifer Granholm’s office and the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) found that the price of an identical prescription can vary by as much as 400 percent from one Michigan pharmacy to another.

    “The message here is clear: consumers can’t afford not to shop around for their prescription drugs,” Granholm said.

    “We don’t think twice about crossing the street to save a penny on a gallon of gas; consumers need to know that crossing the same street can save hundreds of dollars on their prescriptions.”

    Between January and February, volunteers called 130 pharmacies in 10 Michigan cities and requested prices for six common prescription drugs.

    The volunteers make a total of 600 calls were made to pharmacies in Grand Rapids as well as in Alpena, Battle Creek, Birmingham, Detroit, Flint, Lansing, Marquette, Saginaw and Traverse City.

    The six drugs chosen for the survey were:

    • Celebrex, an arthritis drug

    • Alprazolam, the generic equivalent of Xanax, an anti-anxiety drug

    • Hydrochlorthiazide, used to treat hypertension

    • Ambien, a sleep aid

    • Evista, used to prevent osteoporosis in women

    • The liquid form of Amoxicillin, used to treat infections in young children.

    Granholm said the difference in prices between the same pharmacy chain in different towns shocked volunteers.

    “There’s no question that some of the prices our surveyors found border on price gouging,” she said.

    “By giving consumers better information about prices in the market, our hope is that the free market itself will reduce those outrageous prices. If the market doesn’t do it, however, we’ll step in with the law to make it happen.”

    In Traverse City, for instance, the Prescription Shop quoted $72.80 for Celebrex. The same brand and dosage at Eastland Drug costs $96.07.

    Someone buying Amoxicillin from Rite Aid in Traverse City would pay $14.98, but at Thompson Pharmacy would only pay $7.09.

    Pharmacies in southeastern Michigan generally charged higher prices for their drugs than pharmacies in northern Michigan.

    Birmingham, Flint and Detroit ranked as the three cities with the highest drug prices. Marquette reported the lowest average drug prices, with Traverse City and Alpena just behind.

    In Detroit, the price of a 600-pill container of Alprazolam varied $33 from the highest-cost to the lowest-cost pharmacy.

    Surveyors were quoted $8 at Rich Pharmacy and $41.22 at Liberty Discount Pharmacy, a 145 percent difference. In Marquette, a 10-day supply of liquid Amoxicillin costs $7.99; at Campus Pharmacy, and at a Kroger store in Lansing, the same drug costs $25.19. The Lansing price was the highest recorded price of Amoxicillin among all cities surveyed.

    Janet Clark of Lansing, director of RSVP, said, “Our seniors were shocked at the price fluctuations when they started to place telephone calls from drugstore to drugstore.

    “We knew there would be some price differences, but we had no idea that the differences would be as large as they were. This survey is proof positive that it makes sense for consumers to shop around.”

    In Sturgis, the Kroger pharmacy charges $10.09 for Amoxicillin and $86.89 for Celebrex. Customers who fill their prescriptions at the Rite Aid pharmacies in Sturgis and Three Rivers pay $14.98 for Amoxicillin and $83.99 for Celebrex.

    “More than two million Michigan citizens lack prescription drug insurance coverage,” Granholm said.

    “When you’re paying for a weekly dose of life-saving medicine out of your own pocket, a regular savings of just a few dollars can make a huge difference. Those extra pennies can help pay the electric bill or buy a hot school lunch.”           

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