Sufferers of hay fever and nasal allergies generally reach for anti-histamines to calm their itching, sneezing, congestion and profuse watery nasal discharge. More appropriately however nasal corticosteroid sprays offer superior benefits without some of the unwanted side effects of traditional oral therapies. Recently F.D.A. approved as an over-the-counter option, Flonase Allergy Relief offers 24 hour symptom control both for nasal complaints and itchy, watery eyes as well.
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Wellbutrin, more commonly prescribed as the generic Bupropion, remains a widely prescribed therapy for depression. Popular in part because it may lead to less weight gain and sexual dysfunction compared to other antidepressants, it probably lacks significant major therapeutic advantages versus its competitors. While Bupropion may provide some relief, it neither cures depression nor completely eliminates the symptoms.
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Containing a smaller amount of amino acids than a bite of steak, chicken or salmon, this supposed human growth factor booster makes preposterous appearing claims based on extraordinarily shaky evidence. While using such enticing catch-phrases as anti-aging, breakthrough and fountain of youth, the packaging promotes SeroVital to increase lean muscle mass, reduce wrinkles and more. A $100 investment buys one month of product but at best the “increase” in growth hormone raises it only into the low normal range.
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Also sold as Zestril and Prinivil, the generic ACE inhibitor lisinopril remains a mainstay for treating high blood pressure. This inexpensive and generally safe compound successfully combats hypertension protecting both the heart and brain. Additionally it also reduces the likelihood of death after a heart attack and prevents kidney damage especially in diabetics. However treating high blood pressure requires more than medicine alone. Diet, appropriate weight loss, sodium restriction, exercise, stress reduction and avoidance of cigarettes remain vital issues deserving of attention.
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Lyrica and its relative Neurontin or gabapentin are widely overprescribed for pain related disorders. Although approved for treating pain after shingles, evidence for their benefit remains quite sketchy. Gabapentin now ranks as one of the top drugs of abuse with at least 50% or people abusing opioids like hydrocodone and oxycodone simultaneously taking these “johnnies” or “gabbies.” In fatal drug overdoses, gabapentin often appears as a contributing factor.
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Amlodipine or Norvasc treats high blood pressure. This inexpensive, generically available calcium blocker relaxes smooth muscle cells lining arteries and reduces the force against which the heart must pump. Additionally the drug helps protect against chest pain or angina. It ranks among the World Health Organization List of Essential Medicines.
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Once the standard, long acting, once daily baseline insulin, Lantus recently encountered significant competition. This opening of the insulin markets may finally bring some pricing relief to this still expensive necessity. For most Type 2 diabetics, the need for insulin marks the failure of diet and exercise to maintain normal body weight. By itself Lantus rarely suffices to control blood sugar.
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Lowering blood pressure with losartan, the generic form of Cozaar, works as well as more expensive and widely advertised drugs. Many people ultimately need several different drugs to optimize blood pressure control. Generally this is due to inadequate attention to diet and exercise. Success in treating high blood pressure requires a low salt diet, generous servings or fruit, vegetables and nuts with elimination of simple carbohydrates.
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Trulicity aids in controlling type 2 diabetes with only one shot every 7 days. It simulates the pancreas to release insulin and in addition may assist in weight reduction. Prescribed in addition to other therapies, this GLP-1 stimulator rarely causes hypoglycemia. In the near future, a once weekly form of apparently heart healthy Victoza will probably capture considerable market share from cardiac neutral Trulicity.
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Erectile Dysfunction or simply ED affects more than 40% of men beyond age 40. Cialis produces results within 30-45 minutes when combined with sexual stimulation. Alternatively a smaller dose on a daily basis offers advantages for unplanned activities. The drug also may offer minor assistance to men with urinary difficulty due to an enlarged prostate. Cialis neither functions as an aphrodisiac nor as a treatment for premature ejaculation.
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Currently the most popular drug in the family of Invokana and Farxiga, Jardiance stimulates the kidneys to expel glucose from the bloodstream into the urine. As a result patients with type 2 diabetes benefit by losing weight and improving their blood pressure. A relatively large study suggests Jardiance might also slightly reduce the risk of all cause mortality and decrease the likelihood of death from cardiovascular disease. Although these results appear statistically significant, the absolute improvement remains small at less than 3%. No reduction occurs in the incidence of heart attacks or stroke. Blood glucose and hemoglobin A1c fall only modestly.
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Advertising suggests the oral anti-coagulant Eliquis offers significant advantages over warfarin in preventing stroke and bleeding. Actually the differences between the two drugs appear rather modest except in cost. The cash price of Eliquis is about $15 a day which translates to more than $5000 a year compared to a paltry $48 a year for warfarin. Additionally bleeding associated with warfarin can be rapidly reversed with vitamin K; bleeding from Eliquis has no antidote.
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The injectable anti-diabetic agent Victoza treats only type 2 or adult onset diabetes – a condition that regularly plagues the overweight and obese. Due to a variety of side effects, Victoza seems best considered for those already on therapy who fail to sufficiently improve on more traditional drugs. Common side effects include abdominal discomfort and headache while less frequent but more severe reactions raise concern. Thyroid tumors including cancer, non-fatal and fatal pancreatitis and kidney failure remain worrisome associations.
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Among the newer injectable “biologics” prescribed to treat severe psoriasis, Taltz and a competitor Cosentyx remain most likely to result in clear skin within 12 weeks. Unfortunately the cash price for one year of these drugs averages in excess of $60,000. While televised ads blanketing the airways claim discount copay cards limit out of pocket expense, insurance companies are not so fortunate. These and similar drugs largely account for the dramatic escalation in yearly drug insurance premiums.
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The new sleeping pill Belsomra offers a novel action - it reduces the concentration of Orexin – a chemical associated with wakefulness. More traditional sleeping pills typically boost substances involved in generating sleep. Unfortunately Belsomra’s effects are rather disappointing; it’s extremely expensive (around $10 a pill) and people often awaken feeling more drowsy than refreshed.
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Irritable Bowel Syndrome or simply IBS is a condition of unknown cause that manifests as abdominal pain associated with either diarrhea or constipation. A minority of experts believe the diarrhea may result from overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine. An oral antibiotic Xifaxan remains in the gut and may temporarily improve the condition but at a whopping cost of almost $40 a pill. At best it’s temporarily effective with multiple courses required as the drug fails to cure the condition.
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Heavily promoted as treatment for painful diabetic neuropathy and fibromyalgia, Lyrica advertisements blanket the airways. While some studies demonstrate a small benefit when compared to an inactive placebo, others fail to show any difference. Significant complications include dizziness, sleepiness and weight gain. Suicidal thoughts and altered vision are not infrequent side effects. For cash payers the daily cost may exceed $16.
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The inexpensive drug generically available as metformin remains the first choice for type 2 diabetics in whom diet and exercise fail to work. Not only does it dramatically improve blood sugar levels and hemoglobin A1c, but unlike other diabetes drugs, its use may lead to weight loss and is rarely associated with hypoglycemia. When necessary it may be combined with additional anti-diabetes medicines. Additionally preliminary reports suggest metformin may act to prevent a variety of tumors and even increase survival in colon cancer.
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Basaglar represents the first copycat version of Lantus. These insulin products mimic each other’s actions almost exactly; effectively they function identically within the body. Marketing prowess, insurance coverage and discounting to pharmacy benefit managers more than medical requirements dictate which product a person is likely to receive.
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The diuretic variously referred to as HCT, HCTZ or more properly hydrochlorothiazide remains one of the most popular treatments for high blood pressure. This so-called water pill helps eliminate excess sodium and fluid from the body. In the process, the blood pressure falls. The price is cheap and the side effects few. This drug has rightly remained popular for many decades.
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While the extraordinarily expensive Repatha dramatically lowers LDL or “Bad Cholesterol” to levels of 30 mg, it fails to reduce the likelihood of death from all causes or even death from cardiovascular disease. Furthermore it barely budges the incidence of stroke or heart attack. Studies suggest a cost well in excess of $2,000,000 to prevent one heart related fatality. Originally thought of as a miracle drug, its lackluster results may lead to a reassessment of the importance of LDL in causing heart disease. As one eminent cardiologist says the drug may just be “performing cosmetic surgery on a laboratory value.”
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Chronic use of opioids for pain control almost always results in severe constipation often with as few as one bowel movement a week. Relistor prevents binding of the pain medicine to the bowel wall and in the process modestly improves bowel function compared to an inactive placebo. Unfortunately this extremely expensive medicine must be injected just below the surface of the skin on a daily basis. Severe complications may occur. The company behind Relistor, Valeant Pharmaceuticals, gained unwanted notoriety for its business model of buying drug manufacturers and drastically raising prices.
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Diovan or valsartan treats high blood pressure. In the category of ARBs or angiotensin receptor blockers, the drug reduces the likelihood of cough, a major factor associated with the even more popular ACE inhibitors such as lisinopril or enalapril. Controversy surrounds falsified medical investigations in Japanese studies which led to major embarrassment for the Kyoto Heart Study. Worse yet, relatively recent questions exist about ARBs and their potential relation to cancer.
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Beta blockers like Bystolic typically represent second or third tier therapy for high blood pressure. Most drugs in this class share similar features and are available as relatively inexpensive generic versions. Bystolic offers no obvious advantage and remains extraordinarily pricey compared to metoprolol, atenolol or nadolol. Copay assistance cards temporarily shift the financial burden to the insurance company until they next year’s premium increase.
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Persistent facial redness belonging to the spectrum of rosacea remains difficult to treat. Lasers and light therapy such as IPL and VBeam successfully improve the skin’s color. A new drug, Rhofade, contains the active ingredient in Afrin or oxymetazoline but in a more concentrated form. Topical application twice daily provides minimal improvement at a cost about 200 times greater than the Walmart brand of this long available over-the-counter nasal decongestant.
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Diabetes affects tens of millions of Americans with the number growing alarmingly rapidly. Invokana represents a new concept in therapy. Rather than stimulating the body’s metabolism of sugar, this drug leads to elimination of glucose through the kidneys into the urine. Relatives include Jardiance and Farxiga. Recent concerns suggest some association with kidney failure, bone fractures, ketoacidosis, genital yeast infections and possibly an increased risk of amputations. Cash price may exceed $15 each day.
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Onexton combines benzoyl peroxide with the antibiotic clindamycin. Although this expensive topical preparation improves moderate acne by only about 50%, whether it offers significant advantage in excess of readily available, over-the-counter 10% benzoyl peroxide remains debatable. The manufacturer Valeant offers a discount card to blunt the more than $500 retail cost of the prescription drug.
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Constipation as an integral part of the Irritable Bowel Syndrome refers to fewer than 3 weekly bowel movements and may be associated with abdominal pain. A recently approved and of course obscenely expensive drug, Linzess, seems to stimulate the bowels so well that it either causes diarrhea in as many as 1 in 5 people or results in only modest symptom improvement in others. Of course the drug company’s copay card shields the patient, but not the insurance company, until next year’s premium increase.
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Surprisingly whether the yearly flu vaccine actually prevents influenza related complications and death remains controversial. The mortality rate from this virus fell to its current level long before widespread vaccination became available and basically remained flat ever since. Deaths failed to increase in years with a mismatch between strains in the vaccine and those in circulation. Supposed benefits may relate more to the health, lifestyle and income of those opting for vaccination than to the immunization itself – something referred to as the healthy user effect.
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Vitamins marketed to prevent progression of age-related macular degeneration or AMD combine Vitamins C and E along with zinc, copper and at times carotene family members lutein and zeaxanthin. Although claims suggest major benefits, the evidence favoring their use seems rather meager. At best they may slightly delay progression in those with moderate to advanced disease. They neither prevent AMD nor do they cure the disease. A low fat diet with generous quantities of fruit, vegetables and nuts along with participation in regular exercise and avoidance of tobacco offer more protection than vitamins.
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This heavily advertised product supposedly “supports healthy brain function, a sharper mind and clearer thinking.” Surprisingly the “scientific” studies offer little evidence the compound actually provides any benefit. The “active” ingredient appears to be a protein found in jellyfish that does not survive acid and pepsin assault in the stomach and intestine. The FDA has not approved this product and takes issue with promotional claims made by its manufacturer.
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Reducing cholesterol levels with Lipitor or its generic version atorvastatin may reduce risk of atherosclerosis or fatty deposition in the vessel walls. The new theory is to simply take the pill based on initial cholesterol levels and not pay too much attention to the final level. Some even more recent ideas question cholesterol as a major precipitant of cardiovascular disease.
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Tresiba provides long lasting, once daily baseline insulin coverage for both type 1 and type 2 diabetics. It offers the greatest flexibility of any basal insulin. Tresiba continues providing coverage for more than 40 hours which relieves the burden of adhering to a more precise schedule necessary with shorter acting insulin.
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Ads blanketing the airways for Non-24 inform the public about sleep deprivation among those who are both totally blind and lack any light perception. Under normal circumstances light rays travel through the retina to the brain and synchronize the sleep-wake cycle. Interruption of this pathway leads to insomnia and daytime sleepiness. The newly FDA approved relative of melatonin marketed as Hetlioz functions modestly better than placebo but costs about $440 a pill or around $160,000 a year. It has not been tested against the inexpensive and formerly recommended melatonin or other much less expensive options. Studies of Hetlioz by Vanda Pharmaceuticals are ongoing for jet lag.
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This variant of the date rape drug received FDA approval as a $100,000.00+ a year treatment for narcolepsy. Available only though one pharmacy in the United States, a prescription must be faxed to that certified pharmacy followed by two phone interviews – one with a nurse and another with a pharmacist. It is delivered only through the mail and requires signed confirmation of its arrival. Disasters or death may follow when combined with alcohol, a sleeping pill, muscle relaxants, hydrocodone, anti-depressants or tranquilizers like Ativan and Xanax. Other safer and more reasonably priced alternatives exist.
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An array of relatively newly approved, expensive therapies for diabetes complicates decision making with regard to treatment. A drug preventing the body from degrading incretin helps keep levels of insulin high while reducing concentrations of glucagon, a hormone intimately linked to boosting blood sugar. With a daily cash price of about $16, it lowers hemoglobin A1c, HbA1c, by a relatively small amount. Some experts wonder if the hefty price tag of these new therapies can be justified when advantages over traditional options often appear sketchy or non-existent.
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Recently approved Xiidra, a topical eye drop for the Dry Eye Syndrome, appears likely to dethrone Restasis as the treatment of choice for this common malady. Xiidra begins to work more quickly and causes fewer side effects. Unfortunately both of these drugs cost about $5000 each year and fail to eliminate the need for supplements of artificial tears.
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At a price in excess of $50 a pill, Viagra seems extraordinarily expensive. While it adequately treats Erectile Dysfunction or ED, it only provides relief in a brief window extending from 45-60 minutes until 4 hours after each dose. For inexplicable reasons Pfizer, the manufacturer, continues raising the price. Fortunately a much less expensive alternative generic form of sildenafil exists.
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Improper use of this extremely potent opioid caused 10,000 deaths during 2016 with an even greater toll expected this year. Even when used according to medical advice, it often leads to addiction, abuse and respiratory failure. Little difference exists between the therapeutic and fatal dose with death possible with just one pill, patch or injection. Unfortunately fentanyl remains a popular drug of abuse often in combination with heroin.
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This oral treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis competes with Humira, Remicade and Enbrel but functions through a unique mechanism. This pricey drug offers few advantages over more traditional biologic therapies and seems associated with a wide array of side effects including lymphoma or cancer, infection – at times serious or fatal, intestinal perforation and altered liver function.
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Nuedexta combines the active ingredient in the cough syrup Robitussin with a touch of an old fashioned inexpensive heart drug rarely used anymore due to its side effect profile. Amazingly the cash price for this mixture ranges between $800-$950. Even the Congress investigated this apparent discrepancy. Of course the company offers a co-pay card to limit out of pocket cost while charging the insurance companies an exorbitant amount. Nuedexta treats PBA or Pseudobulbar Affect also known as pathological laughing or crying generally associated with Lou Gehrig’s Disease or Multiple Sclerosis. Unfortunately the results of treatment seem unimpressive.
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Lexapro or escitalopram may treat depression and anxiety. Actually Lexapro contains the same active component as Celexa. Aggressive marketing promoting the drug as superior to other available options succeeded in boosting total sales well in excess of $14 billion. Unfortunately studies fail to show Lexapro offers any unique advantages over other similar SSRIs such as Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft. Recent investigations suggest not only are antidepressants overprescribed but their effectiveness compared to inactive placebo therapy remains subject to debate.
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Once it appears, Alzheimer’s Disease steadily and progressively interferes with memory, cognitive function and personality. No currently available therapy significantly alters the continuous downward spiral of the disease. Although marketed to favorably improve the course, Namenda seems relatively ineffective. Even when combined with Aricept, another commonly prescribed drug, Namenda regularly fails to alter the prognosis. Side effects and cost remain concerns.
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Dry Eye Syndrome manifests as burning, stinging, tenderness and blurred vision along with pain and the sensation of something in your eye. The commonly prescribed medicine to combat this situation, Restasis, often requires months to relieve symptoms. In early studies Restasis drops and its non-medicated vehicle marketed separately as Refresh Endura seemed equally effective although the annual price for Restasis approaches $5000. Uncomfortable adverse reactions routinely prompt many to opt in favor of the newly available competitor Xiidra.
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Combining an anti-depressant and smoking cessation medicine with a drug for narcotic dependence results in a new pill known as Contrave which supposedly leads to weight loss. Results unfortunately fail to impress. Weight loss averages as little as one pound every month or two with as many as half of individuals prematurely discontinuing therapy often due to troublesome side effects. An FDA mandated black box warns of suicidal thoughts and behavior as well as such neuropsychiatric reactions as depression and mania. Due to some corporate hanky-panky, it is currently unknown whether the drug increases heart related disease or death.
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While televised ads for Namzaric suggest it helps individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, the company’s website clearly states: “There is no evidence that NAMZARIC prevents or slows the underlying disease process…” This expensive combination of donepezil or Aricept together with a long acting form of memantine fails to provide meaningful relief for the overwhelming majority of individuals treated. Additionally the frail elderly population appears prone to significant side effects from this relatively useless drug.
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At close to $700 for a toothpaste sized tube, Eucrisa should result in phenomenal improvement for childhood eczema also referred to as atopic dermatitis. Instead this non-steroidal cream offers modest benefits over inactive placebo ointment. For an ongoing condition often requiring multiple tubes during a month, this disappointing compound should face stiff opposition from insurers and anyone required to pay the bill. Amazingly Pfizer purchased the developer of Eucrisa for $5.2 billion or $5,200,000,000.00. No wonder the drug’s cost is astronomical.
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Red inflamed pimples of acne often improve with antibiotics. Tetracycline products remain most popular with Minocycline and Doxycycline available as relatively inexpensive generic examples. An extended release version of minocycline sold as Solodyn has not been compared to the traditional antibiotics, yet the cash price averages about $1200 a month. So called co-pay savings cards shift the burden to insurance companies. Valeant Pharmaceuticals is currently being investigated for its pricing practices.
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Proton Pump Inhibitors or PPIs including Nexium, Prevacid, Prilosec and Omeprazole improve symptoms of heartburn medically referred to as GERD or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. They also assist in treating ulcers and protecting the stomach from irritation by aspirin. Unfortunately an increasing number of significant side effects appear associated with long term use. In spite of advertising claims highlighting superiority of one drug over another, differences between the products are minor. For many people with “acid reflux,” antacids like Maalox, Mylanta, Rolaids and Tums or antihistamines including cimetidine and ranitidine provide faster relief with fewer adverse reactions.
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Hydrocodone and its relative oxycodone result in more than 2 deaths every hour throughout the year. Sadly more than 85% of the world’s hydrocodone is consumed in the United States, yet it regularly fails to perform up to expectations. Governmental authorities who once championed prescriptions for chronic back pain, arthritis and fibromyalgia now realize the monster they created. Current recommendations suggest severe restrictions on this compound.
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