Why Is My Celebrex So Expensive?

Dr. Sharon Orrange
Dr. Orrange is an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine in the Division of Geriatric, Hospitalist and General Internal Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
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Hundreds of dollars a month. This is what many are still paying for Celebrex. Why is that? Celebrex (celecoxib) has been the answer for pain from osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, headache and tooth pain for many people, especially in those who get stomach irritation from regular ibuprofen. Celebrex costs a ton because it’s a brand name drug and not available as a generic until 2014. The cost of Celebrex is even higher because your insurance company wants you to use the generic drug in the same class as Celebrex called meloxicam (Mobic is the brand name). Meloxicam is 5 bucks a month, Celebrex about 200 bucks.

What is so special about these medications? Celebrex and meloxicam are similar to other NSAIDs (ibuprofen, Motrin, Naprosyn) but instead of inhibiting both cyclooxygenase enzymes, COX-1 and COX-2, they are more specific inhibitors of COX-2. So the name of this particular class of NSAIDs is COX-2 inhibitors. You care about this because this means they cause less stomach irritation and risk of GI bleeding as compared to other NSAIDs.

Ok, less risk of GI bleeding—but does Celebrex work?

Yes it does. Celebrex works as well as other NSAIDs for gouty pain, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and painful menstrual cycles, just for a few examples. So does meloxicam, a COX-2 inhibitor like Celebrex, and meloxicam is much cheaper.

COX-2 inhibitors gained fame when both Bextra and Vioxx were pulled from the market over evidence of increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Celebrex and meloxicam survived this scandal but remember this: the protective effect on the heart of aspirin, for example, is not shared by COX-2 inhibitors like Celecoxib as they don’t inhibit platelet aggregation.

If you are paying an arm and a leg for your Celebrex ask your doctor about trying meloxicam and if that doesn’t work for you, then maybe Celebrex is worth the cost.

Dr O.

Celebrex can cost $100 – $500 per month for cash-paying patients, depending on dose and frequency. It is considered a Tier 2 or 3 drug by most insurance plans that cover it, meaning a high copay as well. In contrast, meloxicam is available as part of some pharmacy discount programs for under $5 per month, and can be found at many pharmacies for under $5 – $10. Meloxicam is typically considered a Tier 1 generic by insurance companies, meaning you’ll pay only your lowest copay.

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