When purchasing prescription medications, you better shop around. "Your pharmacy" may not always be the most affordable spot to grab the drugs you need to maintain or improve your health.

An analysis of more than 250 pharmacies in 11 states, including New Jersey, finds significant disparities from location to location in the cash prices of common medications (the price paid without insurance or discounts).

Over a year's time, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group report finds, individuals could save hundreds or even thousands of dollars if they researched prices of the drugs they've been prescribed, and/or looked for an alternative that's more affordable.

In the most egregious example in New Jersey, it was found consumers have the option to purchase a 30-day supply of esomerprazole, the generic form of Nexium, for as little as $10, but the median price at New Jersey pharmacies was about $225. The price was recorded as high as $299 in the Garden State. For Nexium itself, prices range from $225 to $361.

Amoxicillin, a common drug for infections, ranges in price from $7 to $30.

"Sometimes, the best treatment may be what the patient can consistently afford, but with providers and patients unsure about prescription drug prices, the process of finding the right medication for the right price becomes even more daunting," the report said.

The report goes on to say that wide variations in prescription drug prices are a sign of a "broken market," a complex web of middlemen and behind-the-scenes deals that often forget about the patient the drugs are meant to assist.

The report also found brand-name drugs did not adjust to competition from generic drugs, even years after the generics entered the market.

"Be a smart, informed shopper," advised Lance Kilpatrick, U.S. PIRG's campaign director of high value health care. "Call around to pharmacies. It makes sense for you to call a few ... and get those cash prices."

And major drugstore chains, he said, don't always deliver the best prices. Nationally, eight of the 12 drugs surveyed had cheaper prices at mom-and-pop shops compared to large chains.

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