Prices for Chantix, the prescription drug used to help people quit smoking, have increased by 106% over the past five years. According to an analysis of GoodRx data, a 30-day supply of Chantix now costs around $485, whereas in 2013, people would have been able get that same prescription for around $236.
The cash price of $485 for a 30-day supply of Chantix can be unmanageable, and many will look to their insurer to cover the cost. However, a deep look at coverage data tells a grim story. According to MMIT, a drug formulary database, a large number of commercially insured patients are covered for Chantix, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that the medication is affordable. Chantix is considered a Tier 3 drug under many plans, which means that despite being covered, plan members are often on the hook for high out-of-pocket costs.
The analysis is based on a representative sample of US prescription fills (not fills using GoodRx) and comes from several sources including pharmacies and insurers, providing a representative sample of nationwide US prescription drug volume. The following cash price data represent the full list prices at the pharmacy — the so-called “usual and customary” price. (It does not include insurance co-pays or co-insurance.)
Chantix’s soaring price, coupled with its poor coverage, does not bode well for the estimated 37.8 million Americans who are currently smoking. Moreover, tobacco use disproportionally affects low-income populations — those that may not be able to afford to pay for Chantix. As smoking is correlated with dangerous health conditions like cancer, depression and obesity, and smoking cessation treatments like Chantix are becoming less accessible, we may soon see an uptick in illnesses and deaths related to tobacco use.
So how well does Chantix work?
Emerging in 2006, Chantix quickly became known as one of the best ways to quit smoking. However, according to the FDA, Chantix is associated with serious side effects including nightmares, suicidal thoughts and amnesia. Manufacturer Pfizer received so many complaints about these side effects that the FDA required them to give Chantix a black box warning, the most severe kind of warning possible for a drug. (Some have even speculated that Chantix was involved in the recent death of prominent chef and travel documentarian, Anthony Bourdain.) In 2009, the FDA allowed Pfizer to remove the warning, believing that the benefits of Chantix outweighed its risks.
Despite the drug’s possible side effects, research indicates that Chantix can work. In one study, Pfizer reported that 44% of subjects had quit smoking after 12 weeks of taking Chantix. Since research shows that counseling can increase smoking cessation rates, patients taking Chantix should also enroll in programs like the Get Quit Plan for additional support and follow-up while quitting.
If you or your doctor think Chantix might be a good option for you, consider these tips to help mitigate the high monthly cost.
- Use a manufacturer coupon or patient assistance program: Pfizer offers both a coupon that can reduce out-of-pocket costs to as little as $40 per month, and a patient assistance program to help eligible patients get their Chantix for free.
- Talk to your doctor about alternatives. While Chantix is one of the only prescription medications available specifically to help you quit smoking, there are other treatment options available. People have seen success with Nicotine gum or patches, and even counseling. Talk with your doctor about what’s best for you.
- Fill a 90-day supply. You may find that filling a 90-day supply (instead of a 30-day supply) will reduce your total cost for this prescription. As an added bonus, you’ll make fewer trips to the pharmacy, saving you time and money.
- Keep your eyes out for the generic. Generic drugs are usually cheaper than their brand-name versions, and Chantix might be available as generic varenicline as soon as November 2020.
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