Generic Propecia: Promises and Timelines

Propecia is due to lose patent protection in June of 2013, and many hair loss patients have marked the date on their calendars in anticipation of cheaper prices for this blockbuster drug.  What patients do not realize is that, although a generic may be available even sooner than that, prices may not fall immediately due to the complex laws governing pharmaceutical patents.  As a matter of fact, it may take more than a year to see substantial cost saving.

Here’s how it works; generic drug manufacturers compete to win a six-month right to make and sell the drug exclusively.  If that happens (and sometimes it does not) prices do not immediately drop.  After all, the generic company is hoping to capitalize on the current pricing of the medication to recoup its investment in the manufacture of the new drug.

After that exclusivity period, the other generic drug manufacturers can get into the act and that is when cost savings can really occur.  According to a recent article in Consumer Reports (May 2012); prices can drop by up to 50% by the end of the first year, with additional savings of up to 70% at the end of year two, and 95% by year three.

So what should you do in the meantime to minimize the cost?  At this point I myself still recommend the branded Propecia since you can get a several hundred dollar rebate if bought through a doctor’s office.  I have had counterfeit Propecia come through my office that looked exactly like the real thing so I am leery of where others get their supply (mine comes directly from Merck).   Plus, most hair doctors I know sell it at cost as a service to their patients.  Beyond that Costco pharmacy seems to have the cheapest prices consistently (and you do not have to have a membership to use their pharmacy or any other pharmacy, by the way).

One should be VERY careful about ordering drugs online, even through reputable Canadian pharmacies.  Actually, let me state that more plainly, just do not order these drugs online.  In August 2005, the FDA conducted an operation at airports in LA, New York, and Miami and found that almost 50% of drug imports from selected countries were, in fact, fakes that US consumers believed they were buying online from Canadian pharmacies undercutting US prices.  More than 2/3 of the drugs were illegally manufactured in countries other than Canada, and nearly 1/3 of those were contaminated or otherwise altered.

Now, when Propecia is available generically, this “lifestyle drug” will eventually drop in price, eliminating the financial incentive to counterfeit it.  However, in the meantime, it is better to get the real thing than to pay a hair surgeon to replace hair you lost because you were trying to save a buck.