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Diabetes medicines most expensive prescription drugs


ROCKVILLE, Md. Diabetes medicines ranked No. 1 in total expense for prescription drugs in 2006 — $38.1 billion — according to a report published by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, a division of the Department of Health & Human Services, last month.

The diabetes medicines, as a class, includes lipid-lowering drugs like Pfizer’s Lipitor.

Medicines for treating heart disease ranked No. 2 with $33.1 billion, followed by central nervous system agents ($28.2 billion), psycotherapeutic agents ($17.5 billion) and hormone replacement therapies ($14 billion).

Overall, the top five classes of drugs account for 62.8% of total prescription drug expenditures of $130.8 billion — diabetes drugs alone accounted for 18.3% of prescription-drug spending.

Psychotherapeutic agents and diabetes medicines were the two highest therapeutic classes with a mean expense per prescription of $91.54 and $86.90, respectively. Average per person expense per prescription in these two categories was higher than the average expense for the remaining three classes in the top five: central  nervous system agents ($62.59), hormones ($48.15) and cardiovascular agents ($46.54).

The estimates in the brief were derived from the Household Component of the 2006 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, the agency stated. Only prescribed medicines purchases in an outpatient setting are included in the estimates. Insulin and diabetic supplies and equipment are also included in MEPS prescribed medicines estimates. Over-the-counter medicines are excluded from these estimates as are prescription medicines administered in an inpatient setting or in a clinic or physician’s office.

Therapeutic classes were assigned to drugs using Multum Lexicon variables from Cerner Multum, the agency noted. The therapeutic class of central nervous system agents includes the large subclass of analgesics; the therapeutic class of psychotherapeutic agents includes the large subclass of antidepressants; and the therapeutic class metabolic agents includes the large subclasses of antihyperlipidemic agents and antidiabetic agents. 

Sales of lipid-lowering drugs had been initially been captured as part of its own therapeutic class in the 2003 and 2004 data, but were reclassified as a therapeutic subclass of the new therapeutic class, metabolic agents, in 2005 and 2006 data. 

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