One of my people — we'll call her Jane — takes two drugs. A generic SSRI, and Nexium. While sorting through the options available to her, and running two scenarios, I discovered just how much Nexium costs her per year. More specifically, how much money she will save by switching from 40mg of Nexium to 2x20mg omeprazole capsules.
$594 per year.
I asked Jane if she'd ever taken anything before the Nexium, because it looked to me like she started it in early 2006, and she told me that she hadn't. The doctor had given her samples, and then a prescription, and she'd been taking it ever since.
Here's the thing: Nexium isn't better than Prilosec. Yes, we all know it's the isolated, active enantiomer of omeprazole, and its time to acid drop is a bit better, and "studies" (paid for by AstraZeneca) have shown that Nexium beats Prilosec in squashing acid production.
Except that it doesn't, because if you look at the fine print, you'll see that those glossy, purty brochures that the big-titted drug reps bring you compare 40mg Nexium to 20mg Prilosec. In fact, when AZ did studies comparing 40mg to 40mg, they discovered that the difference was inconsequential, so they didn't include those results in their marketing materials. (My source for this is a former sales manager for AZ who used to have Nexium as a drug, and then went on to be a regional drug rep manager. He's with Forest now.)
Pretty slick. And underhanded.
Oh, and time to acid drop isn't a particularly important metric, by the way, because PPIs are maintenance meds, not Tums. And Nexium was only something like 2% better than Prilosec for the 8% of the study participants that even showed a difference. Whoopty-do. Clinically significant? Not especially.
Back to saving money. By changing from Nexium to Prilosec, Jane is able to pick a different Part D plan that has a lower premium, not to mention that when she comes to the pharmacy, her copayment will be lower, too. So Jane will be switching. And she could probably eke out a few more dollars in savings if she tried just 20mg omeprazole daily, but I thought I'd be generous by allowing for a non-standard dose in my calculations so her doctor would feel better about switching.
There is a tiny, tiny percentage of people — less than 1 in 100 — that do not respond to omeprazole that do respond to esomeprazole. No one knows why this is, and simply changing from one to the other results in marked improvement. That is no excuse for reaching right for the Nexium over the omeprazole, because sometimes the reverse is true: omeprazole works when esomeprazole does not. Sometimes neither of them work and you need to pick a different drug altogether. This phenomenon is true across all drug classes, and is another reason that having an inflexible, national formulary is a BAD idea.