A generic version is now available for Ambien® (zolpidem), a widely prescribed sleep aid. Since Ambien lost patent protection on April 21, the price for zolpidem has dropped from more than $4 to less than $0.25 per tablet, or $100 per month to less than $10. The price of Ambien increased by more than 30% in the last year.

"This represents a significant savings for health plans and consumers because prescription sleep aids are one of the most widely used and fastest growing drug classes," says Richard Bruzek, HealthPartners vice president of pharmacy services. "This doesn’t however, change our main concern which is the appropriate use of drugs by patients, whether brand or generic."

HealthPartners costs for sleep aids increased 60% from 2005 to 2006. About 7,000 HealthPartners members have prescriptions for Ambien.

"The introduction of this generic will significantly decrease patient and plan expenses for this category of drugs," says Bruzek.

Sixty-seven percent of HealthPartners prescriptions are for generic drugs, an increase of over 15% in just 3 years. Every 1% increase in the use of generic drugs reduces HealthPartners plans and member costs by $7 million annually.

[Yahoo News, May 11, 2007]