Top 10 Most Expensive Popular Drugs in the US and How to Save

Category: Prescription Related Questions

Author

Posted on November 22, 2021

Scott is passionate about health and wellness, and enjoys writing on various topic surrounding these fields. Scott lives in Seattle and spends his free time restoring old furniture and playing pickleball with his friends.



most expensive medications

Like everything else, drug prices go up every year. You expect that. But not the extreme price hikes of the past few years. 

New medications are offering breakthrough treatments but come with hefty price tags. Many have high copays, and insurance plans won't always cover them, especially for long-term use.

Insurance protects some people from some of these sky-high medication costs. But for many others, the prices of the most expensive medications in the US put these life-sustaining drugs out of reach.

Here are the ten most expensive popular drugs and strategies to make them more affordable.

10 Most Expensive Medications In Widespread Use

A study by GoodRx shows the top ten most expensive common medications come with steep prices. These brand name drugs are so expensive in the US, they can be cost-prohibitive — even for patients who have health insurance with prescription drug coverage. 

1. Humira (Adalimumab) $9,065.00/month

The FDA approved Humira for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis almost 20 years ago. Since then, the uses of this TNF-alpha blocker have grown. It's now used to treat arthritis (including rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis), plaque psoriasis, ankylosing spondylitis, Crohn's disease, and ulcerative colitis.  

Since 2014, the drug maker, Illinois-based AbbVie, has raised the price 138% to more than $9,000 per month. If it's been around so long, why is Humira one of the most expensive medications in the US? It's a complex medication to manufacture, and there is no generic version. 

Humira is a biologic drug made from living organisms. Humira can't be synthetically manufactured. The technology and processes used to make Humira can't be easily replicated. As a result, the price of Humira will likely remain high for a long time.

2. Cosentyx (Secukinumab) $8,907.00/month

Another biologic, Cosentyx, is a human IgG1κ monoclonal antibody that binds to the protein interleukin-17A to reduce inflammation. It was the first IL17A inhibiting drug ever approved for patient use. Cosentyx is administered as an injection under the skin (subcutaneous). 

Swiss drugmaker Novartis received FDA approval for Cosentyx in 2015 as a treatment for moderate to severe plaque psoriasis. Since then, the FDA has approved its use for ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis. 

No matter which condition you're treating, you can expect to pay around $8,900 for each month of treatment. And like other biologics, there's no generic version. 

3. Enbrel (Etanercept) $8,717.00/month

Enbrel, yet another biologic, treats autoimmune diseases like moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis. It interferes with tumor necrosis factor, a soluble inflammatory cytokine, acting as a TNF inhibitor to reduce inflammation.

Since receiving FDA approval in 1998, Enbrel's uses have expanded to include treatment of moderate to severe plaque psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and active polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) in children over two years old.

Unlike the other biologics on this list, the FDA approved a less expensive alternative to Enbrel called Erelzi (etanercept-szzs) in 2016. But continued patent litigation has kept it off the market in the US. 

So, for the time being, patients using Enbrel can expect to pay around $8,700 each month for this 23-year-old medication. 

4. Otezla (Apremilast) $6,193.00/month

Otezla has been around since 2014 as a long-term treatment for plaque psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. It's also used to treat oral ulcers associated with Behçet's Disease. It's a phosphodiesterase inhibitor in the same family as those used to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease(COPD) and erectile dysfunction(ED). 

Otezla isn't a biologic, like many other psoriasis treatments, but it can be challenging to get. That's because it is a limited distribution drug that's only available at select specialty pharmacies.

Only about half of the Medicare plans cover it. Three generic versions received FDA approval in 2021, but it's uncertain if any will come to market anytime soon.

Buying it from an online Canadian pharmacy can significantly reduce the cost. At $31.44 per dose, buying Otezla through an online Canadian pharmacy brings the price down from more than $6,000 to less than $1,000 a month.

5. Dupixent (Dupilumab) $5,298.00/month

Dupixent is a monoclonal antibody used to treat allergic diseases like eczema (atopic dermatitis) and asthma in patients as young as six. It's also used for nasal polyps, which result in chronic sinusitis. It's another biologic (derived from living cells), making it difficult to create a generic alternative.

Like other biologics, Dupixent is an injection. It's also a specialty medication and may require prior authorization from your insurance company. It's also a limited distribution drug, so you must have it shipped from a specialty pharmacy. All of this adds to the cost.

At full retail, patients can expect to pay almost $5,300 each month for this long-term treatment. 

6. Biktarvy (Bictegravir, Emtricitabine & Tenofovir Alafenamide) $4,083.00/month

Gilead Sciences, Inc. in Australia manufactures Biktarvy. It received FDA approval for the treatment of HIV in adults in 2018. In October 2021, the FDA approved a lower-dose version for children weighing at least 14 kg (about 30 lbs).

Biktarvy is a fixed-dose combination antiretroviral medication for the treatment of HIV/AIDS. Antiretroviral drugs stop the virus from replicating in the body, allowing the immune system to repair itself.

It combines three medications into a single daily dose. Each tablet contains 50 mg bictegravir, 200 mg emtricitabine, and 25 mg tenofovir alafenamide. 

Biktarvy can run more than $4,000 per month at a US pharmacy. You can purchase it for less than $1,500 per month through a Canadian online pharmacy. 

7. Genvoya (Tenofovir Alafenamide, Elvitegravir, Cobicistat, Emtricitabine) $4,061.00

Genvoya is another fixed-dose combination medication for treating HIV made by Australian drugmaker Gilead. It received FDA approval in 2015 for use in adults and children over 55 lbs.

This antiretroviral treatment combines four medications in one pill: 150 mg Tenofovir Alafenamide, 150mg Elvitegravir, 200mg Cobicistat, and 10mg Emtricitabine. 

At around $4,000 per month, this life-saving treatment can be out of reach for some HIV patients. Through a Canadian online pharmacy, Gennoya costs about $1,350 per month

8. Descovy (Emtricitabine/Tenofovir) $2,195.00

Descovy is another drug developed by Gilead Sciences to treat HIV. It's also prescribed for people who are HIV negative and have a sexual partner with HIV. Descovy lowers the risk of getting HIV through sex.

In 2020, a major health insurer in the US, United Healthcare, announced it would no longer cover the cost of Descovy for the prevention of HIV (pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP). The insurance company shifted patients to an older Gilead PrEP medication, Truvada—specifically the generic form. 

But Truvada and its generic equivalents can have more side effects than Descovy. That makes the more expensive PrEP the only option for some patients. Good thing it's available from Canadian online pharmacies for about half the price in the US. 

9. Tivicay (Dolutegravir) $2,150.00

Tivicay is an HIV integrase inhibitor, which blocks the virus from growing and infecting other cells. It's often used in combination with other HIV drugs like Truvada or Edurant (rilpivirine). 

ViiV Healthcare of the UK developed Tivicay. GSK, along with Pfizer, and Shionogi Limited, owns the global specialist HIV company. They received FDA approval to use Tivicay to treat HIV in adults in 2013 and for children with HIV in 2020.

Standard dose tablets (50 mg) for adults and children over 44 lbs (20 kg) can be pricy in the US, especially when you consider this medication requires use in combination with other drugs for full effectiveness. The same 30 pills that cost more than $2,000 in a US pharmacy can be had for around $850 from a Canadian online pharmacy.

10. Latuda (Lurasidone Hydrochloride) $1,604.00

Latuda, an antipsychotic, is used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Unlike most of the other medications on the most expensive prescription drugs list, Latuda isn't all that new. It received FDA approval for treating schizophrenia in 2010 and for treating Bipolar 1 Disorder in 2013.

Sunovion Pharmaceuticals Inc., the US subsidiary of Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma Co. of Japan, makes Latuda. A generic version of this highly effective medication won't be available until 2023.

Ordering Latuda through a Canadian online pharmacy can save you nearly 90% of the cost of buying it in the US. 

How to Save on Prescription Medication

No one wants to overpay for their medications. Whether you use one of the most expensive medications listed above or just need to lower your medication costs, these strategies can save you money.  

Choose Generic Over Brand Name Drugs

When you're trying to determine how to save on prescription medications, the first thing to look for is a generic alternative. Generic drugs are available for many of the most common medications. 

Generic versions aim to mimic the brand name drug in dose and effect. They must have the same active ingredients, strength, dosing routine, purity, and quality as the brand name version.

The FDA must still approve all generics before they go to market. But generic meds don't go through the same amount of research and development the brand name version did, so they're usually less expensive — sometimes hundreds of dollars less. 

Consider a common medication like Harvoni (Ledipasvir/Sofosbuvir). This Hepatitis-C treatment is available as a brand name drug and a generic. 

An eight-week course of Harvoni can cost $65,000 or more, depending on where you buy it. In comparison, generic Ledipasvir/Sofosbuvir can be 85-90% less, less than $8,000 for eight weeks. That's a considerable saving.

Apply for Assistance From Drug Makers

Many pharmaceutical manufacturers offer drug discount programs for uninsured and underinsured patients. These programs help lower or eliminate your copay, making some of the most expensive medications available to patients who need them.

The discount programs have some limitations. First, you must meet specific financial criteria to qualify. Some require you to have private insurance with prescription drug coverage. Others only apply to people who don't have prescription drug coverage.

You can save thousands of dollars in medication costs if you qualify and for as long as the drug maker maintains the program. These programs aren't required. So, the pharmaceutical company can end them at their discretion.

Switch Your Prescription Plan

Not everyone has the option to change their insurance or prescription plan. This is especially true with employer-sponsored insurance. Some people who purchase insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace (Healthcare.gov) can base their annual plan selection on the best coverage for their prescriptions.

The same is true for those on Medicare. Many recipients can choose from several prescription drug plans using Medicare Part D or an HMO plan. Like Healthcare.gov insurance, you can only change your plan during the annual sign-up period.

Buy From Online Canadian Pharmacies

People pay less in Canada for medications than in the US. There are a lot of factors behind the difference. Government price regulation plays a major role. The Canadian government sets limits on drug prices and the rate of price increases.

The US government doesn't. As a result, prices in the US can rise quickly, even on generic drugs. Several pharmaceutical companies acquired the production rights to older, inexpensive medications and promptly raised the prices by as much as 5,000%.

A good example, and perhaps the case study for this practice, can be seen with Daraprim. It's an anti-parasitic medication used to treat toxoplasmosis. It can also prevent malaria and other infections.

Turing Pharmaceuticals (Martin Shkreli) obtained the rights for this life-saving medication in 2016 and promptly raised the price from $13.50 to $750 per pill for US customers only. In Canada, Daraprim costs just over a dollar per pill. Why pay $750 when you can pay $1.00? 

Online pharmacies in Canada can offer these lower drug prices to their customers, no matter where they are. Why spend more?

Stop Spending Too Much for Your Meds

The newest drugs on the market are also some of the most expensive medications available. But they can also offer more effective treatment and fewer side effects than older drugs. 

Where you buy your medications can make a huge difference in how much you pay for them. An online Canadian pharmacy like PricePro Pharmacy can fill your prescriptions more affordably than US pharmacies.

Check your prices get started saving money today! Simply give us your prescription, place your order, and receive your medication in the mail. It's that easy.

Work Cited

1. https://www.drugs.com/slideshow/old-drugs-new-pricetag-1206

2. https://www.goodrx.com/healthcare-access/drug-cost-and-savings/top-10-most-expensive-popular-brand-name-drugs-us-how-to-save

3. https://www.novartis.com/news/media-releases/us-supreme-court-denies-sandoz-petition-review-biosimilar-erelzi-etanercept-szzs-case

4. https://www.drugs.com/medical-answers/makes-otezla-otezla-expensive-3560434/

5. https://www.pricepropharmacy.com/product/otezla/

6. https://www.gilead.com/news-and-press/press-room/press-releases/2021/10/us-food-and-drug-administration-approves-expanded-indication-of-gileads-biktarvy-for-treatment-of-hiv1-in-pediatric-populations

7. https://www.pricepropharmacy.com/search/?drugName=Biktarvy

8. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/nda/2015/207561Orig1s000TOC.cfm#:~:text=Approval%20Date%3A%2011%2F05%2F2015

9. https://www.pricepropharmacy.com/product/genvoya/

10. https://www.hivplusmag.com/prevention/2020/8/18/insurer-tells-descovy-users-theyll-have-switch-truvada-prep

11. https://www.pricepropharmacy.com/product/descovy/

12. https://www.drugs.com/history/tivicay.html

13. https://www.pricepropharmacy.com/product/tivicay/

14. https://www.drugs.com/history/latuda.html

15. https://www.pricepropharmacy.com/product/latuda/

16. https://www.pricepropharmacy.com/generic-vs-brand-name-drugs-13-things-you-should-know/

17. https://www.pricepropharmacy.com/product/harvoni/

18. https://www.aafa.org/patient-assistance-medicine-drug-programs#pharma

19. https://www.medicare.gov/drug-coverage-part-d/how-to-get-prescription-drug-coverage/how-to-switch-your-medicare-drug-plan

20. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/ecpe/united-states-pharmaceutical-pricing/

21. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/12/31/792617538/a-decade-marked-by-outrage-over-drug-prices

22. https://www.pricepropharmacy.com/how-to-order/