Study: Are you paying too much for generic medications?

By R. Ryan S Patel DO, FAPA OSU-CCS Psychiatrist

Medications for mental health can be helpful for some people when combined with healthy lifestyle habits, healthy psychological skills, and support through counseling.

As of 2013, about 1 in 6 individuals in the United States reported taking prescription medications for mental health (1).

A recent study looked at the cost of medications across various pharmacies (2).

What was the study?

  • The study authors (2) looked at the cost of 3 commonly prescribed medications at 175  pharmacies across 55 zip codes in a 2 state region.
  • 153 of 175 pharmacies were chain pharmacies.
  • The authors also looked at dose, supply, pharmacy type and zip code, and zip code median annual income.

What were the results? (2)

  • Only 1 chain pharmacy had consistent pricing across all its stores in the study region (2).
  • They found that even within the same chain, medication prices could vary based on the pharmacy.
  • The main driver of cost was the retail pharmacy—and not the variables of drug dose, duration of therapy, pharmacy ownership, pharmacy location, or median income (2).
  • For one of the medication combinations, study authors found almost a 40 fold difference in price (2), and a 33 fold difference for another.
  • Counter intuitively, the study authors also found the oldest generic medication to be most expensive (2).

What are some caveats?

  • This was a small study looking at 3 generic medications in a 2 state area in the Midwest.
  • So the results may not be applicable to all medications, as well as all regions.
  • Further study is needed.

How can I ensure that I am NOT over-paying for my prescription medications?

  • Many pharmacies have stopped discount or $4 pricing.
  • Check with your insurance about a preferred pharmacy.
  • Call pharmacies in your area or download an app that can compare prescription drug prices in your area.
  • Talk to your prescriber about prescription discount cards, vouchers, or a 90 day supply. These may be available for brand name medications, sometimes generic ones too.
  • Look into Charitable pharmacies in your area.  For example, CD4AP runs a Charitable Pharmacy on the South Side of Columbus Ohio, which offers free or reduced fee prescriptions for those in need:

If you are having difficulty filling or affording your prescription, it may be best to talk to your prescriber without delay.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to be informative only. It is advised that you check with your own physician/mental health provider before implementing any changes. With this article, the author is not rendering medical advice, nor diagnosing, prescribing, or treating any condition, or injury; and therefore claims no responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss, or injury caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application, or interpretation of the material presented.


  1.  Moore  TJ, Mattison  DR.  Adult utilization of psychiatric drugs and difference by sex, age, and race  [published online December 12, 2017].  JAMA Intern Med. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.7507
  2. Hauptman PJ, Goff ZD, Vidic A, et. al. Variability in Retail Pricing of Generic Drugs for Heart Failure.  JAMA Internal Medicine. 2017;177(1):126-128.