Hundreds of high-cost, low-value drugs come onto the market every year1. Some of these new high-cost drugs are just combinations of older, existing drugs. In many cases, the clinical effects of these new combinations can be easily duplicated by using their original components — at far lower cost.
Pharmacy plan sponsors can avoid unnecessary costs by spending pharmacy dollars on only the most clinically appropriate, cost-efficient medications. In this article we’ll look at muscle relaxants; a widely used, often overpriced drug category.
Skeletal muscle relaxants are widely used for acute pain and spasms associated with musculoskeletal disorders. One study estimates that up to 68 per 1,000 persons between age 18-64 in the U.S. are taking prescription skeletal muscle relaxants2. That equates to over 13.7 million people. 3
There are two distinct problems associated with the long-term use of skeletal muscle relaxants; one is clinical, the other is financial.
From the clinical perspective, recommendations generally limit skeletal muscle relaxants to short-term use. Treatments may extend to a maximum of three weeks, since they have not been shown to work for muscle spasms beyond that time.4 Regardless of length of use, skeletal muscle relaxants can cause serious side effects such as falls, fracture, vehicle crashes, abuse, dependence and overdose.
However, long-term use of skeletal muscle relaxants has increased significantly. A recently published study found a 192% growth in the number of office visits resulting in continued skeletal muscle relaxant therapy in the period between 2005–2016 — nearly 25 million such visits per year. 5
This increase occurred despite research that indicates muscle relaxants may not be any more effective in managing pain than over-the-counter medications like Tylenol® (acetaminophen) or Advil® (ibuprofen). 6
There can be significant cost variations for muscle relaxant medications, especially as we look at single versus combination products. For example, orphenadrine (e.g., Norflex® and other brands) is a widely used skeletal muscle relaxer. Used in combination with aspirin and caffeine, orphenadrine has been a long-established treatment option as a muscle relaxant.
Orphengesic® Forte is one such combination product. It is indicated for the relief of mild to moderate pain of acute musculoskeletal disorders with rest, physical therapy and other measures. 7 It is marketed under the trade name Norgesic Forte and generic name orphenadrine citrate/aspirin/caffeine by multiple manufacturers. 8
Some of these products can have a very high average ingredient cost. The highest cost product, made by Ina Pharmaceuticals, costs up to $3,055 per prescription. The Ina product is positioned as a generic product and therefore has the majority of utilization (98% of claims).
In contrast, the cost for most generic single agent orphenadrine products is under $60 — less than 2% of the combination products.
This graphic shows a list of orphenadrine, aspirin and caffeine combination products available on market, with their prices: