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Prescription drug reviews could be useful

The study evaluates research to determine which medicines work best for certain ailments

A study on drug efficacy implemented for the Oregon Health Plan could have far-reaching implications for anyone who uses prescription medicines.

The study was commissioned to hold down drug costs for Oregon's state-supported health plan, but its results will be available to anyone who wants to know which medicines most effectively treat a variety of common medical conditions. Some of the results already have been posted on the Internet, Dr. Kathleen Weaver said during a meeting in Medford on Tuesday.

Weaver said relatively little evidence-based research has been done in the United States, but the studies are more common in some Canadian provinces and foreign countries. The comparative drug reviews will be useful for many people who have never been connected to the Oregon Health Plan, such as those who have to buy their own drugs and those who have a tiered drug benefit in their health insurance.

This is bigger than the Oregon Health Plan, she said.

Weaver, the medical director of the Office for Oregon Health Policy and Research in Salem, came to Southern Oregon to talk about coming changes in the drug benefits for open card patients enrolled in the Oregon Health Plan. Starting Jan. 1, open-card OHP patients (those who are not enrolled through an insurance provider) will be required to make a &

36;2 to &

36;3 copayment for each prescription.

Several people in the small group that gathered at the Medford Senior Center told Weaver the new copays will be difficult for people whose income is low enough to qualify them for the Oregon Health Plan.

That will definitely be a hardship for some people, said Kip Grant of Medford. For some that will be &

36;20 or &

36;30 a month they'll have to pay.

Weaver said the Legislature approved the copays to try to hold down the costs of prescription drugs, which are rising faster than any other component of Oregon's innovative state-supported health-care system. She noted the Oregon Health Plan spends nearly &

36;500 million on drugs annually, so using the most effective, least expensive drugs could yield substantial savings.

She noted that each &

36;1 million saved could provide health care for about 400 people for two years. Weaver said there are about 20,000 Jackson County residents currently on the OHP.

She said the new drug studies will evaluate existing research to compare the efficacy of similar drugs for treating specific conditions, such as arthritis. the time the researchers finish the two-year project, they will have compiled data for about 15 classes of drugs for conditions such as diabetes, incontinence, high-blood pressure, migraine headaches and heart problems.

Research already completed shows that over-the-counter medicines such as naproxen sodium (sold under the Aleve brand name and others) provides as much pain relief for most people as more expensive drugs that are heavily promoted in magazines and on television.

You can hardly watch the news at night without seeing five or six drug commercials, she said.

The new OHP arrangement still will give physicians the option to prescribe specific drugs for patients that require them, but they will be encouraged to use the least-expensive most-effective medicines.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492, or e-mail

To see the reports, visit the Web site at: information is also available through the aarp at:www.aarp.org/wiseuse

At the top of the aarp page, in the search window, type oregon drug, then scroll down the list of topics to Oregon Prescription Drug Research.