Americans spend $6 billion a year on it, but according to Consumer Reports, Nexium and drugs like it are overused.
The drugs work, but that doesn't mean they're always needed. There's a new push to look at the overuse of medications -- weighing the pros and cons before deciding what is best for you.
Nexium is one of several proton pump inhibitors -- or PPIs -- and it's often prescribed for heartburn to keep the stomach from producing too much acid. Consumer Reports said that ads have helped make Nexium the biggest selling prescription drug today.
"But unless you have gastroesophageal reflux disease -- and that's really when you have heartburn a couple times a week for several months on end -- you actually may not need such a strong drug," said Lisa Gill, Consumer Reports.
Nexium and other PPIs have drawbacks. They can take several days to work, you must take them daily and they've been linked to side effects, including pneumonia and bone fractures. For occasional heartburn, antacids like Tums or Rolaids, or milder medications like Pepcid or Zantac may be all that you need
"They act quickly -- they're not as effective as stronger medications, but they often do the job by themselves," said Lenox Hill Hospital doctor David Robbins.
As a gastroenterologist at Lenox Hill, Robbins said if severe symptoms continue drugs like Nexium may be necessary.
"For example, I might see a patient who has ulcers of the esophagus or stomach and they would be on a prescription strength PPI for four to eight weeks," said Robbins.
If your doctor decides that is the best option, there are cheaper generic alternatives.
"Our analysis shows that these medications are equally effective, equally safe and you can shop by price," Gill said.
The cost of Nexium averages $240 a month, but generic PPI's omeprazole and lansoprazole average just $17 a month
In response to this report, AstraZeneca, the company that makes Nexium, said it offers assistance programs to help patients who can't afford the medication. A statement from the company:
Globally, each country has its own pricing structure and many factors are taken into account when establishing prices. AstraZeneca aims to reflect its value to patients, to payers and to society in general as well as the cost of research and development.
AstraZeneca understands that our medicines will not benefit patients if they are unable to afford them and that's why we've offered patient assistance programs for more than 35 years. these programs are designed to help qualifying patients afford their medicines through a variety of channels. in 2013, astrazeneca provided nearly $975 million in savings to more than 567,000 patients in the us through its patient assistance programs. these programs include the company's az&me suite of prescription savings programs and the medimmune assistance program. Consumer Reports Nexium report http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2014/03/find-the-best-heartburn-treatments/index.htm Consumer Reports on heartburn medications http://www.consumerreports.org/health/best-buy-drugs/heartburn_ppi.htm Consumer Reports on PPIs http://www.consumerreports.org/health/resources/pdf/best-buy-drugs/PPIsUpdate-FINAL.pdf