Is there scope for improving the cost-effective prescribing of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs?

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review


Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are used widely throughout the world to relieve the symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders, in particular osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. These drugs have significant adverse effects, including gastrointestinal ulceration and the associated complications of perforation and bleeding.

The relative toxicity of competing forms of branded and generic NSAIDs varies considerably. Their acquisition cost also varies considerably, sometimes with relatively more toxic drugs being more expensive. Thus, it may be possible to reduce both adverse effects and pharmaceutical expenditures associated with NSAIDs, if doctors' prescribing behaviour can be changed.

A tentative exploration of alternative patterns of NSAID use demonstrates that it may be possible to reduce expenditures on NSAIDs in the UK to below the 1994 level, and reduce adverse events. If prescribing of NSAIDs was reduced by 25%, average dosage reduced by 10% and patients switched to less toxic NSAIDs, up to 86 million pounds sterling could be saved per year in the UK, the number of serious adverse events per year reduced by 189 (from a baseline figure of around 500) and the annual number of gastrointestinal complications reduced by 127 (from a baseline figure of around 315). Such results may be achieved without reductions in the quality of life of patients using these drugs.

The available clinical and economic information about NSAIDs is limited, and the publication of numerous poor quality studies has corrupted the knowledge base. Despite these problems, there appears to be enough evidence to indicate that expenditure on NSAIDs could be considerably reduced and significant adverse effects could be avoided if general practitioners were persuaded to change their prescribing behaviour. Inefficient and inappropriate prescribing of these often beneficial, but sometimes dangerous, drugs appears to be wasting scarce UK National Health Service resources and harming patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)484-496
Number of pages13
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1996



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