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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's)

Information for Consumers

Oregon's Research

How do I find out what research has been done to determine if the brand or generic drug that my doctor has prescribed is any better than other brands or generics that are available?
Oregon contracts with the OHSU Oregon Evidence-based Practice Center to conduct an evidence-based review of all literature available on specific drug classes. Subcommittees appointed by the Health Resources Commission, then synthesize the reports to determine which drugs are most safe and effective. There are also one-page summaries of the HRC reports for consumers.

How do I find out which drugs on the Oregon Health Plan have undergone this evidence-based review?

View evidence based reports

Reducing Your Costs

Tools to help reduce cost

  1. Read the latest research from Oregon about drug effectiveness.
  2. Compare prices:
  3. Consult with your physician.
  4. Check pharmacies.
    Shop around for a pharmacy that offers the best value for your needs. Some drug stores offer cheaper prices but no services such as home delivery or pharmacist consultation.
  5. Check dosages.
    You may want to ask your doctor or pharmacist about whether you can save money by ordering your medications in different doses. For instance, if you take 50 mg of a certain medication, it may be cheaper for you to purchase 100 mg pills and take half of one pill each day. Remember, it is important to take exactly the amount of medication your doctor prescribes, so talk to your doctor about whether this would be a safe option for you.
  6. Buy in bulk.
    If you will be on a drug for a month or more, ask your physician if it 's appropriate to order a bulk supply.
  7. Order by mail or online.
    Mail order pharmacies now account for 10-12% of the total prescription market. Ordering by mail, which can save you 10-15%, is perfect for patients who take medication on an on-going basis and can place orders in advance.

Your Prescription

10 Questions to Ask About a New Prescription

  1. What's the name of the drug you're prescribing?
  2. Is a less expensive generic version of this drug available?
  3. Could I save by splitting a larger dose?
  4. How much and how often will I take this drug?
  5. What time of day and relationship to meals should I take this drug?
  6. What side effects might I expect? What should I do?
  7. Is it safe to take with other drugs or supplements?
  8. What do I do if I miss a dose?
  9. How long will I take the drug? How will it be monitored?
  10. Do I need to finish the entire dose schedule you have prescribed?

Help Paying for Medicines

What if I can't afford to pay for my prescription medications?
There are many resources available to help you pay for your prescription medications. Many organizations provide help in obtaining your drugs at lower or even no cost. Talk with your doctor of pharmacist about whether you might use mail order services to save money on your ongoing medications. Also, contact the prescription drug manufacturer about your eligibility for enrolling in their free drug programs.

Visit the links below to find out more about programs to help you afford your medications:

Generic Drugs

Prescription drugs can be a costly medical expense, especially for older people and those who are chronically ill. However, each state has a law that lets pharmacists substitute less expensive generic drugs for many brand-name products. Depending on your prescription needs, your savings could be significant. Before you talk with your doctor or pharmacist about switching, there are things you need to know about generic drugs and the law.

What's the difference between a generic and brand-name drug?
Not much, except for name and price. A generic drug is called by its chemical name; a manufacturer assigns a brand name. The products have the same ingredients

Standard practice and most state laws require that a generic drug be genetically equivalent to its brand-name counterpart. That is, it must have the same active ingredients, strength, and dosage form-pill, liquid, or injection. The generic drug also must be therapeutically equivalent-it must be the same chemically and have the same medical effect.

Do all drugs have generic equivalents?
No. Some drugs are protected by patents and are supplied by only one company. However, when the patent expires, other manufacturers can produce its generic version. Currently, about half the drugs on the market are available in generic form.

Are there exceptions to the law?
Yes. If your doctor writes on the prescription form that a specific brand-name drug is required, your pharmacist must fill the prescription as written. That is, a generic drug cannot be substituted.

However, your pharmacist can talk with your doctor about the prescription. There may be an acceptable generic drug that your doctor is not aware of. Your pharmacist can compare and evaluate generic and brand-name drugs and may be able to consult with your doctor to provide the right medication at the best possible price.

Will my doctor automatically prescribe generic drugs?
It depends on the physician. You can ask your doctor to write a prescription permitting substitution of a generic drug product when appropriate. You also can ask whether a generic product will be as effective and less costly. Or, you can request that only brand-name products be used to fill your prescriptions.

How do I find out if there is a generic alternative for my prescription?
You can find out whether there are generic alternatives for your name-brand prescription by using the FDA's Electronic Orange Book.

Using Medicine Safely

What things can I do to make sure I take my medications safely and correctly? Do you or a family member have trouble seeing, reading or understanding how to take medication?

Helpful tips:

  • To start, read the label. It will tell you when and how to take it, how to store it, and what side effects to look for (such as drowsiness).
  • Keep your medication in its original container, remove the cotton from the top of a pill bottle as it may hold moisture and keep the cap on. The container is made to protect your medicine, but should not be stored near a window or left in a car for long periods. Some medications are very sensitive to light, heat and moisture which may cause them to be ineffective.
  • Keep a list of all your medications with the time of dose and kind of pill. Give copies to your doctors, a family member, also keep a copy in your pocketbook or wallet, and at home.
  • Carry a card in your wallet that lists the names of any medications you are allergic to.
  • Marking the top of each bottle with a colored dot can help you recognize different medications and/or different times to take medications. Weekly or daily pill planners are also useful.
  • Shoeboxes are ideal for keeping your pill bottles together in one place. It's an easy way for you to take your medications with you when you go to the doctor.
  • Because some medicines should not be taken together, make sure all your doctors know about all of your medications, including over-the-counter medications.
  • Review your medications with your doctor once a year. Check for duplications, proper doses, medications you no longer need, and outdated medications. Flush outdated pills down the toilet.
  • Don't stop taking a medication for any length of time without consulting your doctor.
  • If the pills look different when you get a refill, ask the pharmacist why. You can help prevent a medication error.
  • Let your doctor know if you have any questions or are having problems with a medication (side effects or allergic reaction) or remembering how or when to take a medication.
  • Don't share your medications or take medications prescribed to others.
  • Never take medications from a package with signs of tampering, damage or imperfections.
  • All medications should be kept out of the reach of children and animals.

Medication Safety

Unless you have instructions to do so from your doctor first, you should never:

  • Change the doses
  • Skip doses
  • Cut your doses in half
  • Share your prescription with others

Do I really need an antibiotic?
While many conditions are treated with antibiotics, not all conditions require antibiotics. Bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics, however viral infections and other inflammatory processes (allergic processes, non-infected insect bites, some skin conditions, viral infections etc.) can mimic bacterial infections and are not responsive to antibiotic treatment (though there are anti-viral treatments for a very limited group of patients who are unable to fight these infections on their own). Your health care provider is trained to make these decisions. Overuse of antibiotics is leading to stronger germs, which are not easily treated. For this reason, it should not be expected that when you get medical attention, you will be prescribed an antibiotic as it may not be the correct treatment for the problem you have.

Canadian Drugs

Over the past several years, an estimated 1 million US citizens are traveling to Canada to buy cheaper prescription drugs. They are crossing the border in person, by telephone, by fax and over the Internet. Recent news coverage has many patients asking their doctors for advice about the safety of buying drugs in Canada — even if buying them is legal. Doctors often find themselves at a loss for answers.

Are these purchases legal
"The legal sands are shifting. The House and Senate have passed several different versions of legislation allowing drug imports and the penalties for breaking the law are still unclear. The FDA has declined to prosecute persons involved in these transaction, but it is not as clear about cities and states that choose this option. The FDA will instead focus on the middlemen."

- New England Journal of Medicine, volume 349, Number 23, December 4, 2003.

Are these purchases safe?
"The drug approval process in Canada is similar to that followed in the US. Canada's pricing guidelines tether the price of new medications both to those of existing medications and to the other consumer goods These guidelines have contributed to an increasing disparity between US and Canadian drug prices…that are on the average, 67% higher than the Canadian prices."

- Patented Medicine Prices Review Board, 2002.

What are the mechanics of obtaining a prescription?
"A valid prescription from a US physician is required, and often a patient's medical history is solicited as well. In the Canadian pharmacy participating in the arrangement, the prescription is reissued by a Canadian physician and then filled by a Canadian pharmacist. Narcotics, benzodiazepines, and other drugs with the potential for abuse are generally not available."

- New England Journal of Medicine, volume 349, Number 23 December 4, 2003.

What is the evidence of harm?
"Evidence of harm from these transactions is sparse. However, the possibility of harm may escalate in the future. Especially in the murky marketplace of the Internet, US consumers have no way of knowing with certainty the true origin of drugs ordered from Canadian sites."

- New England Journal of Medicine volume 349 Number 23 December 4, 2003.

Information for Medical Professionals

Research on brand and generic drugs

How do I find research on brand or generic drugs to determine if what I've prescribed is any better than other brands or generics that are available?
Oregon contracts with the OHSU Oregon Evidence-based Practice Center to conduct an evidence-based review of all literature available on specific drug classes. Subcommittees appointed by the Health Resources Commission, then synthesize the reports to determine which drugs are most safe and effective. There are also one-page summaries of the HRC reports for consumers.

The drug classes listed on the OMAP Drug List have been reviewed and evaluated by the Health Resources Commission. Medicaid eligible drugs in the same class and not listed at this site can be prescribed using the exception process described in the Oregon Health Plan Pharmaceutical Services Guide. Note: (**) This drug represents the benchmark drug in this class.

Information on misuse of drugs

What information is there on misuse of drugs?

Medical recalls

How can I make sure that patients take their medications safely and correctly?