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Study touts savings of Rx-to-OTC switches

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New research estimates benefit for Canada at over $1 billion

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OTTAWA — More than $1 billion could be saved by the Canadian health care system and economy by switching three categories of drugs from prescription to over-the-counter, new research finds.

Consumer Health Products Canada said the Rx-to-OTC savings from these medications — proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) for frequent heartburn and indigestion, oral contraceptives and erectile dysfunction drugs — would come from lower drug costs, fewer doctor visits and less time spent away from work, according to a study released Thursday by the Conference Board of Canada.

Breaking down the numbers, the analysis tallied the savings at $458 million (Canadian) for drug costs, $290 million for 6.6 million fewer doctor visits and $290 million for increased labor productivity.

The largest savings identified in the Conference Board of Canada study was for prescription-to-OTC switches of PPIs such as Olex or Nexium, estimated at more than $700 million annually. The total savings for the modeled oral contraceptive and erectile dysfunction Rx-to-OTC switches was $220 million and $106 million, respectively.

Less time spent away from work collectively adds a $290 million boost in economic productivity, and fewer doctor visits frees up time for physicians to treat more complex patient needs, according to the study.

PPIs already have seen some medicines switch to OTC status in Canada, while oral contraceptives and erectile dysfunction drugs are being examined as potential candidates for switch in other countries or have already gone to OTC status there, Consumer Health Products Canada reported.

“By far the biggest impact from over 6.6 million fewer doctor visits and hundreds of millions of dollars in drug plan savings is to provincial and federal government health care budgets,” Karen Proud, president of Consumer Health Products Canada, said in a statement. “At the same time, all Canadians would benefit from easier access to medicine they need and the reduced burden on our strained health care system. Allowing people to choose a trip to the pharmacy instead of missing work to see a doctor just makes sense.”

Transitioning a prescription drug to OTC status also lowers the cost of treatment for Canadians who need it most, since nonprescription medicines are more affordable for people without a drug plan or lacking full drug coverage, Consumer Health Products Canada said. Still, Canadians with comprehensive drug plans may pay slightly more for the convenience of choosing an OTC medicine over a prescription, the group added.

Canada lags behind countries like the United States, United Kingdom and Australia by six to seven years when it comes to prescription-to-OTC switches. What the Conference Board of Canada report shows is that this is costing our healthcare system and our economy billions of dollars,” stated Gerry Harrington, vice president of policy and regulatory affairs for Consumer Health Products Canada. “It’s time for Canadians to have more self-care choices.”

In the United States, more than 700 products have made the Rx-to-OTC switch over the past 30 years, according to the Consumer Products Healthcare Association (CHPA). PPI products that made the prescription-to-OTC switch in the U.S. include Prilosec OTC, Prevacid 24HR, Zegerid OTC and Nexium 24HR. The Plan B One-Step emergency oral contraceptive, known as the morning-after pill, also is available OTC in the U.S. No prescription drugs for erectile dysfunction have gone OTC thus far in the U.S.


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