JULY 01, 2006

Thanks to the availability of lower-cost generic drugs, American patients and taxpayers will save $24.7 billion this year alone, according to a new analysis by Express Scripts. The study, which was based on a random sample of approximately 3 million individuals, reflects the impact of generic competition for 2 widely prescribed drugs— the anticholesterol medication Zocor (simvastatin; $3.1 billion in 2005 sales) and the antidepressant Zoloft (sertraline; $2.6 billion). Both of these drugs will lose patent protection this year.

"The savings opportunity from increased use of generic drugs has never been greater," Express Scripts officials said. "More than $50 billion worth of branded drugs will lose patent exclusivity over the next 5 years," including 16 drugs with $14.3 billion in current sales, which will face generic competition for the first time this year. Although, on average, less than 20% of anticholesterol prescriptions are currently filled with a generic, the approval of a generic version of Zocor will change that percentage, Express Scripts officials predicted. By the end of this year, 85% of all prescriptions for anticholesterol medications could be filled generically, according to the analysis.

"We have a tremendous opportunity to conserve precious health care dollars by increasing our use of less expensive generic drugs and still achieve the same clinical benefit," said Express Scripts Chief Medical Officer Ed Weisbart, MD. Significantly, however, the analysis concluded that billions of dollars in potential savings from generics go unrealized each year because of continued utilization of higher-priced branded drugs.

During the past 2 years, "failure to take advantage of the full potential of generic drugs in the 6 classes resulted in missed savings opportunities of $20 and $21.3 billion, respectively," according to Express Scripts.