Effective today, Tricare will no longer list the gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD) medication Nexium as a preferred drug. This means some 338,000 patients must switch to another heartburn/acid reflux medication as it will no longer be available via Tricare or in military hospitals and clinics.

Removing Nexium from the preferred drug list will save approximately $1.6 million a day ($584 million/year) in health care spending alone, said Kevin Dwyer, spokesman for the Defense Health Agency.

“Tricare is constantly working to provide its patients with the highest quality of care at the best possible cost to both them and the government,” Dwyer told Military Times. “For this reason, when the Department of Defense’s 10-year-old preferred pricing agreement with AstraZeneca ended on April 1, Tricare began phasing Nexium out and recommending three less-expensive medications that work equally well for most patients.”

Affected patients have been working with doctors to determine the best alternative for treating their GERD symptoms. Alternatives include: Omeprazole, Pantroprazole and Rabeprazole.

According to reports, about 10 percent of patients will continue to use Nexium under specified doctor orders. In order for patients to continue using Nexium, their doctors should have already submitted authorization.

Nexium, manufactured by AstraZeneca, raked in nearly $48 billion over the past decade. Recently, however, AstraZeneca has been on public blast for allegedly withholding information about Nexium from the public and healthcare professionals. When its patent on Prilosec (its original heartburn medication) ran up in 2001, the drug company began marketing Nexium as a new and improved heartburn medication.

Patients raved about the new “purple pill” and others couldn’t wait to get their hands on it since it promised to give more relief that its predecessor.

Reports show that Nexium is basically the same thing as Prilosec; only patients are getting a double dose of the active ingredient. So, it’s no wonder it brings more relief — it’s like taking two Prilosec.

The drug maker failed to disclose that since patients were essentially getting a double dose of Prilosec, they could really just take two generic Prilosec pills, which would cost a lot less than prescription Nexium.

Nexium: Part of a Wave of Big Spending on TV Ads

Over the past several years, drug makers have put big bucks into television ads for high-priced drugs like Nexium in an effort to get viewers to relate to the commercials and ask for the medications by name. This whole phenomenon is quite interesting, and according to an article by USA Today, spending on direct-to-consumer (DTC) pharmaceutical advertising grew 62 percent since 2012.

According to USA Today, the nightly news and sitcoms that target an older audience get most of their advertising from drug makers who target ailments such as dry eyes, erectile dysfunction, pain and constipation. Last year alone, drug makers spent some $6 billion on this type of advertising.

The problem with this type of advertising, as we have seen with Nexium, is that the ads appeal to people who will pay almost anything to be relieved of debilitating symptoms. They are high-priced drugs that can only be afforded by a certain class. In the case of Nexium, it is believed that marketing like this lead to such high demands for such an expensive drug.

Even though patients are not forced to ask for drugs by name, they should be given all the facts — like an opportunity to try a similar drug in generic form that could potentially give them the same relief at a fraction of the cost.

We all know that heartburn and acid reflux can be painful and for those who get it frequently, debilitating. For people with GERD, finding a medication that relieves these symptoms is important. Some people argue that because of this, AstraZeneca used Nexium to make money on something patients could have gotten for much cheaper.

AstraZeneca also makes Prevacid, another medication in the class of proton pump inhibitors (PPIs).

Potential Problems with PPIs

According to studies, proton pump inhibitors may increase a patient’s risk for developing serious side effects, including chronic kidney disease. This occurs when a person’s kidneys are so damaged they can no longer filter blood as they should. The result is toxic sickness.

Symptoms of chronic kidney disease can include:

  • Pain in the legs, upper back and/or where the legs meet the torso
  • Shortness of breath due to swelling in the lungs
  • Uremia, or a metallic taste in the mouth and a severe loss in appetite
  • Rashes and other skin irritations caused by waste buildup that comes through the skin
  • Chills in the feet, hands, ears and nose often caused by anemia
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Swelling in the legs, ankles, feet and hands
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Changes in urine (frequent urination, increased pressure upon urination, foamy urine)

In the past, PPIs were also linked to an increased risk of acute kidney injury and inflammatory kidney disease. According to results from two different studies, people who used PPIs have a 50 percent higher risk of developing kidney disease.

Lawsuits Involving Nexium Kidney Disease

Despite suggestions that Nexium may be linked to an increased risk in the development of kidney disease, a direct cause-effect relationship has yet to be determined. With that said, patients who have been prescribed Nexium or other PPIs and who have been diagnosed with kidney disease may be eligible to sue through a lawsuit for financial compensation.

Although financial compensation cannot reverse the damage that has been done, it can help alleviate some of the other losses that come with kidney disease such financial burdens in the way of medical bills and an inability to work; decreased quality of life; and a decreased ability to care for family members or otherwise engage in a fulfilling life.