Why Did Prilosec Disappear From Drug Stores?

An interesting story in today's New York Times, my all-time favorite newspaper in the world, tackles the super-hot demand for over-the-counter (OTC) Prilosec that's far outstripped consumer demand, leaving drug store shelves bare over the past few months. What's far more intriguing to me: How the FDA has "protected" Procter & Gamble and AstraZeneca from Prilosec after going to the OTC side.

UK-based AstraZeneca claims domestic shortages over the past few months occurred as a result of poor projections of consumer demand by Procter & Gamble. But those bad numbers haven't hurt AstraZeneca at all. In fact, the shortage of Prilosec has been very good for AstraZeneca's bottom line because it has increased sales of Nexium, a far more expensive prescription heartburn drug the company also sells! Moreover, most doctors view the two drugs as essentially the same, even though the per pill cost of Nexium (about $4) is more than five times that of Prilosec (70 cents).

Here's the kicker: An unusual regulatory agreement between AstraZeneca, Procter & Gamble and the FDA that allows the two companies to "control" the OTC version of Prilosec, even though the drug lost its patent protection in 2002 and became available without a prescription two years ago. Most of the time, after a drug changes status to OTC, the manufacturer is forbidden from selling it by prescription, unless there's a discrepancy regarding the dosage.

Two years ago, the FDA allowed AstraZeneca to sell Prilosec OTC along with a prescription version, although both contain the same medicine, until 2006! The crazy loophole: Patients aren't supposed to take Prilosec OTC for more than two weeks at a time without a visit to a physician.

Folks, the number of people who actually need this drug is less than one in 100 of those who are currently taking it. In other words, people are being prescribed drugs for heartburn when it is one of the easiest medical problems to treat. Most people simply ignore an important clue from their body the presence of heartburn is telling them and rely on a drug to suppress the symptoms.

The four-step process for treating heartburn naturally and far less expensively:

If you want to learn more about the ways drug companies can deceive you, I urge you to read one of the more popular articles on my Web site that chronicles the inside story of Nexium.

New York Times March 2, 2005

Spartanburg Herald-Journal March 2, 2005

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