Cheap drugs for the very poor
Drug companies, not known as the most giving of businesses, are teaming up with a nonprofit group and Washoe County to provide affordable pills for those who can barely afford groceries.

If you make less than $16,000 a year, or $25,000 for a couple, and don’t have insurance or Medicaid to cover prescriptions, you might qualify for $7-per-month prescriptions through the Washoe County Prescription Relief Pilot Program. It costs $25 to apply for the program.

If you live in unincorporated Washoe County, the deal’s even sweeter—a block grant covers the $25 application fee. If you make the cut, an Ohio-based nonprofit group, Prescription Relief, finagles discounted drugs for you directly from the manufacturers.

Yes, drug companies will distribute cheap or even free prescriptions to the occasional needy applicant. But it can take around eight hours to fill out the paperwork, navigate the red tape and jump through the required hoops to get even one prescription, says Buzz Harris, vice president of American Strategies, the Reno public relations firm approached by Prescription Relief to plug the service in Washoe County.

“As a Nevada citizen, I thought this was a great opportunity for affordable prescriptions,” Harris says, noting that the service fills a gap not addressed by other state programs such as Senior RX.

Prescription Relief can access around 1,700 maintenance drugs, those used to treat medical conditions for more than 30 days. Around 140 pharmaceutical companies participate. (More at or (866) 378-4686.)

The program could be a huge money-saver for anyone barely making ends meet. A person earning around $1,200 a month can’t pay rent and buy food while dishing out $800 or $900 for high-priced prescriptions.

While a program like Prescription Relief both fills a gap and provides an opportunity for positive public relations, critics of the pharmaceutical industry argue that many prescriptions are still overpriced.

A 2003 study found that the cost of the 50 most common prescription drugs was rising at three times the rate of inflation. The report, done by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, also found that the pharmaceutical industry routinely charges the uninsured as much as 66 percent more than it charges such large “favored” high-volume clients as the U.S. government for 10 common prescription medications.