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6 Popular COPD Medications (and What They Cost)

December 14, 2020

high drug prices

If you've turned on a television anytime in the past decade, you've undoubtedly seen ads for COPD medication — perhaps it's one you've heard of or taken yourself in the past, or perhaps it's a new one. If it seems like there are a lot of commercials that talk about COPD, it's because there are a lot of commercials that discuss it.

While some are more popular than others, there are a handful that are the most often prescribed because doctors find that they work for the majority of their patients. While everyone is different and not everyone's lungs respond to medication or dosage the way others do, most COPD patients end up on one (or more) of the following medications.

Here are the 6 most popular COPD medications and what you can expect to pay for them.

What is COPD?

COPD, which stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a chronic condition in which the "airways in your lungs become inflamed and thicken, and the tissue where oxygen is exchanged is destroyed." As more and more tissue is destroyed, less air is able to enter the lungs, resulting in a lower oxygen level in the body. Furthermore, it's more difficult for the lungs to expel the carbon dioxide it's able to make.

Sometimes referred to as chronic bronchitis or emphysema, COPD is quite common in the United States. According to the American Lung Association (ALA), more than 16.4 million Americans have COPD. That being said, the ALA believes there are many undiagnosed cases of COPD among Americans — probably for many reasons, including but not limited to poor access to healthcare or lack of awareness that symptoms people are experiencing warrant medical attention.

COPD is not a matter to be trifled with or ignored. ALA data shows that COPD is the "third leading cause of death by disease in the United States." Because it's a progressive disease with no cure, it will become a more serious health issue with age, but the negative effects of the disease can be managed in part so the patient can live more normally for as long as possible.

While COPD is preventable in many circumstances (by not smoking or spending a copious amount of time in poor air conditions), there is no cure once a person's lungs have started showing symptoms. As with any other life-threatening disease, the earlier it's discovered, the better. If doctors can help reduce inflammation in the tissue, it can prolong the patient's life, in addition to their quality of life.

Long-Term Inhaled Corticosteroids

Inhaled corticosteroids are used to treat multiple lung conditions, including asthma and COPD. Steroids have been known to reduce inflammation in some cases, and when the inflammation is within the lungs, it's best if the medication is inhaled so it can be directly applied to the affected area.

There are multiple medications that are used for this purpose, and which one works best for each person will vary. In many cases, the inhaler actually contains more than one medication to manage inflammation and bronchoconstriction.

Symbicort

Symbicort is used for both COPD and asthma control. It contains both budesonide (a corticosteroid) and formoterol fumarate dihydrate (a long-acting bronchodilator). The device looks much like a traditional fast-acting inhaler. Symbicort is designed to be taken via two actuations in the morning and two at night (120 doses per month). Obviously, this will vary according to the patient's individual needs.

It's been on the market for long enough at this point that it (finally) has a generic, which makes it more affordable, although not by nearly the same margin as it would cost to purchase from an online international pharmacy. In the United States, 120 actuations — or a one-month supply — of the lowest brand-name dose (80/4.5 mcg) costs about $370.00. The generic equivalent runs at about $250.00.

At NorthWestPharmacy.com, we sell 120 actuations of brand-name Symbicort for about $100.00. If you'd rather go with the generic, you'll save even more money. The same quantity and dosage in the generic form only costs about $50.00.

Advair Diskus

Advair is a very popular dry powder inhaler that is used to treat patients with asthma and COPD. In this form, it's in the shape of a disc, which is why the inhaled corticosteroid is called the Advair Diskus. (There is also a fast-acting inhaler that is separate from this medication.)

Like Symbicort, Advair has two active ingredients: fluticasone propionate (anti-inflammatory) and salmeterol xinafoate (bronchodilator). This medication is designed to be taken twice per day — one actuation in the morning, and another in the evening, making a one-month supply a total of 60 actuations.

In 2019, a generic form of Advair was finally approved, offering a more affordable alternative for people who have been paying hundreds of dollars per month for years — but even still, it's expensive in the United States. The lowest dose of brand name Advair (100/50 mcg) costs about $380.00, whereas the generic costs about $125.00. It's certainly less expensive, but a far cry from what people can find through online pharmacies.

At NorthWestPharmacy.com, we offer brand name Advair for about $70.00. Alternatively, the generic costs about $55.00.

Breo Ellipta

Breo Ellipta is similar in delivery method to the Advair Diskus, but the medication inside and the frequency is different. Breo is made up of fluticasone furoate and vilanterol. Fluticasone furoate actually suppresses your immune response so that the tissue doesn't become inflamed, while vilanterol is a long-acting beta adrenergic agonist (LABA), which helps relax the bronchioles.

Breo was only approved in 2013, so at this point, there is no generic version available (and there probably won't be for quite some time). As a result, it's quite expensive. In the United States, a one-month supply of the lowest dose of Breo (100/25 mcg) costs about $420.00. Because of its high cost, it's typically classified as a Tier 3 drug in the formulary, which means insurance companies don't cover much of the cost, if any at all.

At NorthWestPharmacy.com, we offer the same dose and size of Breo Ellipta at a much lower price — about $190.00.

Spiriva

Spiriva is unique in that it comes in two different delivery methods. Regardless, the active ingredient is tiotropium, which is a long-acting muscarinic agent (LAMA) or anticholinergic. Both are inhaled, but one requires more force than the other — meaning, it needs a strong inhale, which can be difficult for COPD patients, especially as the condition progresses.

The Spiriva Handihaler (also known as "Spiriva with Device") is a dry powder inhaler. Unlike Advair, it requires that a pill be placed into a special inhaler, which crushes the pill and the medication is inhaled in two puffs. This method requires a fair amount of force on the inhale in order to get the medication into the lungs.

Spiriva in the Handihaler is only available in one dosage (18 mcg) and there is no generic version currently available in the United States (original approval was in 2004). Therefore, a one-month supply costs about $516.00. However, there is a generic available at international pharmacies, such as NorthWestPharmacy.com. The generic version costs about $60.00. The brand name costs about $100.00.

The Spiriva Respimat delivers the same medication in a spray (also inhaled) that allows the medication to move in a slow-moving mist through the lungs. This delivery method does not require a harsh inhale and is better suited for people with weaker lung capacity.

The Respimat version of Spiriva is only available in one dosage (2.5 mcg) and there is no generic available at all, as the approval was granted in 2015. In the U.S. the cost is about the same as the Handihaler version ($516.00), but at NorthWestPharmacy.com, it costs about $120.00.

Trelegy Ellipta

Trelegy Ellipta uses the same device as the Breo Ellipta (Ellipta refers to the device — the first term is the brand name drug) but has one additional medication included. Trelegy incorporates fluticasone furoate, umeclidinium (another LAMA), and vilanterol trifenatate in their formula. It's available in only one dosage (100/62.5/25 mcg).

Approved in 2017, Trelegy is the newest drug on this list and still without a generic. In the United States, Trelegy costs about $635.00. At NorthWestPharmacy.com, it costs about $130.00.

Fast-Acting Inhaler Back-Up

Fast-acting inhalers are sometimes necessary for people with COPD who are experiencing respiratory distress (wheezing, tightness), which could be caused by environmental factors, stress, or missing doses of medication. Long-term inhaled corticosteroids cannot substitute for fast-acting inhalers, and therefore, it's often recommended that people with COPD keep a rescue inhaler on hand for emergencies.

Ventolin

Ventolin is the brand name of one of the most popular respiratory medications on the market. The active ingredient is albuterol, and it's easily found in generic form. In the United States, brand name Ventolin (100 mcg, 200 actuations) costs about $68.00, but the generic is about $45.00.

While these prices are far lower than the others on this list, they're still more affordable from international online pharmacies. At NorthWestPharmacy.com, the brand name version is about $25.00 and the generic costs about $20.00.

Why Are COPD Medications So Expensive?

When it comes to inhalers, a large cause for the expense is the delivery method — or perhaps more accurately, the patents that are held on the mechanisms. Inhalers contain a few different moving parts (literally) that can affect the patent awarded to them.

Much like asthma inhalers, medications used to treat COPD use various propellant agents to deliver the medication into the patient's lungs. Metered dose inhalers (MDIs) use chemical propellant agents (such as aerosol) to push into the lungs. This is how rescue (fast-acting) inhalers function, which makes sense because the medication needs to get there quickly with as little effort as possible on the part of the patient.

The other popular method of delivering medication is through a dry powder inhaler (DPI), which is similar to a MDI, but there is no chemical assisting in the inhalation. With a DPI (such as Advair Diskus and Breo Ellipta), a slide mechanism measures out the specific dose necessary and then the patient inhales sharply through the mouthpiece in order to suck the medication into their lungs.

The final method of delivery is through a nebulizer, which is very common among COPD patients who have progressed further in the disease and don't have the lung strength they once did. Nebulizers are machines connected to masks that cover the nose and mouth. Medication is placed in the machine and then the patient wears the mask for a designated period of time, letting the drug get into the lungs without much effort.

The point of course, is that all of these mechanisms can be subject to patent protection, and if any of these devices are amended at any point, they can reapply for their patent protection, which often drives the cost of the medication up. Theoretically, the manufacturer can say that the new method is better and is worth more money.

Furthermore, pharmaceutical companies have been using the high cost of research and development to justify the high costs of their drugs for many years now. While there is some truth to this argument — it takes a lot of people a lot of hours over a lot of years in order to develop and release a new drug — the exact cost of research and development is rarely released, which leads some to believe that the price is overinflated.

Of course, none of this touches on the fact that the price of medication in the United States is essentially unchecked. While most countries have restrictions on how much pharmaceutical companies can charge citizens, the U.S. government has chosen to give manufacturers patents which protect their monopolies but then leave the pricing up to the monopoly itself when in most industries, government intervention to protect a monopoly, means the beneficiary of that protection yield something to benefit the public. Big Pharma in the United States really does get to have its cake and eat it too! Frankly, this doesn't seem to be working out for Americans in need of medication, but that's how things are for the time being.

How Americans Can Get More Affordable COPD Medication

As you can see from the medications on this list, it's not difficult for Americans to find more affordable ways to access their medications. Online international pharmacies like NorthWestPharmacy.com are not only reliable but are extremely convenient — we can deliver your exact prescription directly to your door at a fraction of the price.

We don't believe that anyone should have to choose between paying their bills and getting the medication they need. We also understand that it can be stressful to order your medication from an online pharmacy — especially if this is your first time.

Feel free to read through our frequently asked questions, which may give you answers you're looking for, but if you don't find what you're looking for, don't hesitate to contact us. For your convenience, we have a toll-free phone number: 1-866-539-5330. We're happy to walk you through the ordering process or answer whatever questions you still have.

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