Over-the-counter Claritin draws debate

Claritin the most prescribed allergy medication has recently moved to an over-the-counter drug. People without medical insurance or who did not have a prescription appreciate the move more than those who had prescriptions with medical insurance.

Since Claritin has gone over the counter most insurance companies will no longer cover its expense. Therefore, prescriptions have expired.

Claritin an antihistamine blocks the action of histamine, a natural substance in the body that is released by the immune system. Claritin is a once a day dosage that will not cause drowsiness and has a low incidence of side effects.

Claritin’s advertisement says, “Take clear control of allergies” but what’s unclear is the difference in quantity and price and who is really benefiting from this decision to make the drug accessible to everyone.

At Meijer, Claritin 24 hour cost $17.24 for 20 pills, $9.56 for 10 pills and $5.23 for 5 pills. Through the pharmacy, 30 pills, approximately a one-month supply, costs $108.06 without insurance, according to a pharmacist at Meijer Pharmacy. Those without insurance see this as a deal because as a prescription they paid a little over $3.50 for each pill.

People with medical insurance however, do not benefit as much. A patient with medical coverage could receive 30 pills of Claritin with a co-pay of $20 and others pay nothing, according to Scott Edwards, a staff pharmacist at The Pharm.

This difference in price has upset many who previously prescribed with insurance but the move will benefit the manufacturers of Claritin. “The company is better off doing it this way [over the counter] because they’ll have more sales at a higher price more readily accessible,” Edwards said.

The pharmacist at Meijer said the price is not reasonable and has everything to do with marketing and thinks doctors should still be allowed to prescribe Claritin.

Most pharmacies have experienced complaints since Claritin was moved over the counter. The university pharmacy has had various problems with students who used to prescribe. A fair amount of people received Claritin through the university pharmacy, according to Pharmacy Coordinator Cindy Puffer.

“Many people are concerned because our only option now is to tell people to buy it over the counter,” Puffer said. “It’s very frustrating for us pharmacists.”

Some people do not understand that once it goes over the counter pharmacists cannot prescribe it. A few insurance companies are still covering the cost however this will eventually stop according to Richard Lardinais, staff pharmacist at CVS Pharmacy.

Morgan Egan currently holds a prescription to Claritin. She was unaware that it was no longer available as a prescription. “I’m going to consult my doctor to see what I should do after my prescription runs out,” Egan said. She says she would never pay $1 a pill because she got it free before.

“We’re going to see this happen more and more…” Puffer said. “The second they go generic [over the counter] they cannot be prescribed and insurance won’t pay for it.”

There are other alternatives other to purchasing the over the counter Claritin. The university pharmacy recommends patients contact their physician about changing the prescription changed to another allergy medicine such as Clarinex or Allegra. Clarinex is a metabolized form of Claritin put out by the same company.

“Clarinex is an effective medicine and antihistamine and might be better,” Puffer said. “Well that’s how the manufacturer put it… but it might not get as popular because there are three avenues to take now.”

People who used to prescribe to Claritin have three options: buy the over the counter Claritin, change to Clarinex or change to Allegra, according to Puffer. Allegra is comparable to Claritin D. Claritin D contains a decongestant in addition to the antihistamine. Claritin D 24 hour is available over the counter and Claritin D 12 hour will hit the shelves later this month according to Schering Co. the manufacturer of Claritin.

Other pharmacies have not had as many problems with the change. Lardinais said they have not had many complaints. According to Edwards, the few that were upset have switched to Allegra.

“I suggest to patients who had prescriptions to buy Claritin over the counter,” Edwards said. “But I have no problem switching someone.”

Each pharmacist has good faith in the Claritin product. Edwards thinks the move to over the counter is a good thing and Claritin has proven itself to be safe. He said the quality is the same; it but the price factor is an issue for some.