Wal-Mart pharmacy offers cheap generic drugs

Wal-Mart launched a program Sept. 22 that slashed the prices of nearly 300 generic prescription drugs.

The generic drugs will be sold for $4 per prescription for up to a 30-day supply at commonly prescribed dosages.

“Each day in our pharmacies, we see customers struggle with the cost of prescription drugs,” said Wal-Mart CEO H. Lee Scott Jr.

The program is available to all Wal-Mart customers and associates, regardless of whether they have insurance.

“By cutting the cost of many generics to $4, we are helping to ensure that our customers and associates get the medicines they need at a price they can afford. That’s a real solution for our nation’s working families,” Scott said.

Wal-Mart began the generic drug program in the Tampa Bay area. The program is set to include all of Florida beginning January 2007.

A Wal-Mart press release noted that the 300 drugs included in the program could be used to treat and manage conditions ranging from allergies, cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes. Also, some antibiotics, antidepressants, antipsychotics and prescription vitamins are also included.

“We are committed to taking what we do best, driving costs out of the system, and passing along those savings to our customers and associates,” said Jami Arms, a Wal-Mart media manager.

“This is one way we can ease the burden of the high costs of healthcare for our customers, members and associates to ensure they get the medicines they need at a price they can afford,” Arms said.

Many professionals in the pharmaceutical industry applaud Wal-Mart’s efforts to bring down high prescription prices.

“I think that prescription prices are a big issue in this country,” said Otis Kirksey, professor and director for the Florida A&M University College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but we have a long way to go. Your wallet shouldn’t determine the quality of your healthcare.”However, not all professionals agree.

“That company, because of possible bad press due to other aspects of their business – meaning personnel or lawsuits that they’ve had – want to do whatever it takes to become Mr. Nice Guy,” said Alexis Roberts-McMillan, pharmacy manager at Economy Drug Store in Tallahassee.

Although some professionals are unhappy about Wal-Mart’s new pharmacy policy, some students like the idea of buying medicines for a lower price.

“Four dollars is a lot cheaper for people, especially for those without insurance who struggle to pay for prescription drugs,” said Jennifer Petty, 22, a fourth-year pharmacy student from Jacksonville. “If they’re generic drugs, they’ll still have the same active ingredient. You get the same effect for a cheaper price.” However, not all students will be making the switch to Wal-Mart’s pharmacies.

“I probably still wouldn’t go because I would prefer to use my regular pharmacy because it’s a pattern of habit,” said Murshid Normand, 25, a junior architecture student from New Jersey.

Although lower prices are a great benefit, pharmacists fear that patient safety could become a large concern.

Kirksey said when customers start shopping for better prices at multiple pharmacies, they lose the benefit of the system of checks and balances that utilizing their pharmacist can provide.

Kirksey said a patient who purchases a high blood pressure medicine from their regular pharmacist could then purchase the cheaper, generic arthritis medicine from Wal-Mart, possibly setting off an adverse, if not deadly drug interaction.

In addition, Kirksey warns that customers will probably not be able to get all their drugs in a generic version because of them having a negative formulary, brand-name drugs that do not have an equally effective generic counterpart.

This move to lower prices has created competition throughout local and national pharmacy chains and generic drug companies.

“True enough, being an independent family-owned business, we’ll be hard hit,” Roberts-McMillan said.

“We have to look for the loyalty of our patients and new patients to want us to help them too. We have to be optimistic.”