Switching to over-the-counter drugs could save $1B annually: report

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Switching three prescription drugs classes to over-the-counter medications could save Canadians, employers, insurers and the health-care system $1 billion annually, according to a new report by the Conference Board of Canada.

According to the report, the economic value of switching to over-the-counter medications is an estimated $709.9 million for proton pump inhibitors, which treat gastroesophageal reflux disease; $222.2 million for oral contraceptives; and $106.2 million for erectile dysfunction drugs.

It also considered the benefits of patients avoiding primary care visits and investigated how a switch to over-the-counter medicine would change the cost burden for public and private drug payers. The majority of savings would come from lower drug costs at approximately $458.4 million, reduced physician visits at $290.2 million and increased economic productivity at $289.8 million, according to the report.

“Removing the need to obtain a prescription from a physician for select medications can help improve access for some Canadians through greater convenience and at a lesser cost,” said Louis Thériault, vice-president of public policy at the Conference Board of Canada. “It also alleviates some of the pressure on Canada’s strained health-care system by decreasing the number of unnecessary doctor visits.”

While switching would benefit public and private insurers, employers and people with little to no prescription drug coverage, the report noted those already covered under a drug plan would incur additional costs.

As well, there are some potential risks, including misdiagnosis, misuse and adverse events, all of which Health Canada reviews before approving individual medication switches.

Transcontinental Media G.P.