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Generic meds switch for elderly could save taxpayers up to €152 million

A new report on medication use by the elderly in Ireland says that switching to generic medicines could save millions.

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A NEW STUDY on medication use by the elderly says that switching some of their medicines for cheaper generic versions could save the taxpayer millions.

The Polpypharmacy study on adults over 50 in Ireland by TCD was based on their Irish longitudinal study on ageing, TILDA. It notes that over the community-dwelling people after over 50 in Ireland, 69 per cent report taking medications regularly.

Those over 50 take two medications on average, those over 65 take three and those over 75 take four medications on average.

The reports shows that this indicates a high level of ‘polypharmacy’ in Ireland, and said that the prevalence independently increases with age, more reported health conditions, and more severe chronic pain. This potentially puts the ageing population at greater risk of duplication of therapy, drug interactions, non-adherence and other issues, it added.

Polypharmacy may be necessary to properly manage certain diseases, but it can also indicate over- and inappropriate prescribing, said the study. Polypharmacy accounts for over half of the annual costs of prescribing to the entire population aged over 50 years.

Medications used to treat cardiovascular conditions (mainly high blood pressure and heart disease) are the most common medications contributing to polypharmacy.

Saving money

Currently one in five medicines used by those reporting polypharmacy is a generic, and increasing the use of generic medicines could potentially save up to €29.5 million per year, said the study.

It also said that in the older population reporting polypharmacy, dispensing the cheapest medicine in each drug group could save up to €152.4 million per year.

It recommends a regular medication review for those taking five or more medications, and substitution for a cheaper similar medicine where possible. It says that there should be widespread implementation of an accessible system for all prescribers to enable comparison of pricing for patients.

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Statins are the second most popular drug category for those over 50, and if people in this group were switched to their generic equivalent, almost €40 million could be saved.

The report also noted that of the top 10 medicines in Ireland and England for which a generic substitute is available, Irish prices for seven of them are more expensive than their English counterparts – and two medicines are around six times more expensive.

It said that if all patients on these drugs were switched to a generic at the English price, that would save €25 million per year.

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