Friday Rant: Pennywise, Prevacid Foolish – Spend Lessons from Coupons at Costco

I hesitated to write this column because it deviates from my usual ramblings on Spend Management in the workplace and the home -- plus it's also a bit personal. But I hope that by sharing a somewhat private and scary (not to mention painful) experience from an over-the-counter drug side effect earlier this month, that others can avoid my fate. The story begins in early February on a routine trip to Costco. I loaded the kids into the minivan and left my wife at home to have a relaxing Saturday morning while I did damage with the ATM card (getting away from Costco for less than $600 is considered a great success in our household).

After buying the usual items -- mostly food, and other related consumables -- I decide to take advantage of a coupon for a drug called Prevacid. Prevacid, like other strong stomach acid reduction drugs which are typed as proton pump inhibitors (or "PPI"s), is powerful stuff. Still, it's marketed, of course, as having exactly the same impact as its competitors (but the underlying chemistry, as I would soon learn, is different).

I assumed Prevacid and Prilosec were interchangeable, and given the price differential with the coupon -- clearly designed to entice people like me, because the drug had only recently gone on the OTC market -- I thought I'd give it a try. A week or two later, I cracked open the bottle after a particularly big meal in which I thought it would come in handy. By the next day, I had a number of odd maladies that I initially thought were tied to the flu: shortness of breath, nausea, tendon/muscle pain, etc. The symptoms continued to worsen and by the next week, I had seen my doctor twice, gone through numerous tests and procedures, and tapped my HSA account for a good grand or two even after the PPO discount (I'm still waiting on the adjusted bills). However, nothing seemed to improve.

Even though my risk factors for nasty things are low (heart attack, cancer, etc.), the symptoms continued to culminate, and I began to worry that something very dangerous was brewing under the surface. Yet my doctor was stumped: my test results came back completely normal. During this time, I also managed to spend a few hundred bucks seeing an acupuncturist, hoping a bunch of needles would help, which they did for a period of time after each session. In my mind, however, this further suggested that there really was a horrifying underlying problem that desperately needed treatment. Even still, my overall condition worsened and I even had to stop running and lifting weights because of upper chest, shoulder and other pains (those who know me understand that this a major thing, given the importance I place on getting a workout in most days of the week).

As things got worse, I was at a loss. Last weekend, however, it dawned on me that the symptoms began around the time that I tried Prevacid for the first time. I went to Google, typed in "Prevacid side effects," and what I found shocked me -- numerous examples of other individuals who battled my exact symptoms. A number had also bought Prevacid with a similar coupon offer, thinking they'd give it a try as a substitute of Prilosec or another acid reducing drug. Upon reading this, I immediately put two and two together and tossed out my remaining pills.

Things were better by the next morning, and 48 hours later, I was 80% back to normal. I even gave a webinar without any signs of breathing problems or nausea (the previous week it was all I could do just to get through a series of meetings in the UK, let alone presenting materials). For me, the simple Spend Management lesson in all of this is fairly clear: don’t be pennywise, Prevacid foolish. In a silly attempt to save a few bucks, I ended up spending over a thousand dollars on tests and treatment, hurting my work and athletic performance, and giving myself quite a serious scare in the process.

We all need to remember that even OTC drugs are serious things. Just as we think of traceability in our company supply chains, there are lessons here when it comes to traceability in our personal supply chains as well (i.e., think about the timing of the onset of symptoms and associate with changes in personal consumption or behavior). When it comes to diagnosis and treatment, we must stop an incident in its tracks before it becomes all-consuming, which it nearly did in my case. Something as seemingly innocuous as trying a substitute a product because of a cheaper price point can have disastrous results for some people who end up with an underlying allergy to a medicine. As a final aside to this story, my doctors and everyone else had failed to even ask if I was on any prescription or OTC drugs, or whether I had changed any behaviors or products (if anyone else encounters this same problem, I was not taking any other drugs, prescription or otherwise). So much for treating the whole patient, I suppose. In the end, only a free search on Dr. Google ended up saving the day.

Jason Busch

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