On average, people with diabetes spend $6,000 per year treating their disease. Costs add up fast, but what if your neuropathy pain medications didn’t have to cost as much? Two studies completed by Mayo Clinic and by experts at the University of Michigan Medical School have found evidence that less-expensive neuropathy medicines provide the same relief as the costly meds.

Studying neuropathy pain treatments

Half of all diabetics develop neuropathy pain at some point during their experience with the disease, so Mayo Clinic tested different neuropathy drugs, determining which ones were more effective. Working off of their research, University of Michigan Medical School doctors created similar tests and compared medicine costs, finding that the cheaper medications were just as effective as the expensive medications. Brian Callaghan M.D., author of the UM study says, “These treatments all work about the same, but what’s different is their side effects and cost… Given that the effects of the medications are similar, why should we start patients on the expensive drugs until we’ve determined whether or not they respond to the less-expensive ones?”

Why are some medications more expensive?

Newer drugs have full marketing campaigns behind them and many manufacturers seek and receive specific approval for treating diabetic neuropathy pain from the FDA. By seeking the highest level of recommendation in national treatment guidelines, these medications are able to create an appearance of being a better choice in medication.

Even though many of the older, less expensive drugs are still just as effective, the approvals granted to newer drugs lead doctors to prescribe these medications more often. This is only escalated by pressure from pharmaceutical sales representatives who aggressively market new drugs to doctors.

Cost differences

The two drugs most commonly prescribed for diabetic neuropathy are pregabalin (brand name Lyrica) which typically costs $190 per month and duloxetine (brand name Cymbalta) which costs on average $171 per month. In contrast, the “off label” drugs for treating diabetic neuropathy, gabapentin (brand name Neurotin) only costs around $19 a month, or a topical cream like capsacin generally only costs $14 a month. Using a cheaper drug rather than pregabalin would save over $2,000 a year.

Hopefully this research will help doctors cut costs for their diabetic patients by prescribing drugs that are less expensive, but just as effective at treating neuropathy pain. Always talk to your doctor before changing medications, but next time consider asking your doctor to prescribe you a cheaper medication.

For more on neuropathy:

Neuropathy and Exercise
Supplements for Neuropathy
Four Types of Diabetic Neuropathy