3. Is there an older drug or a lifestyle alteration that works just as well?
Every time your doctor accepts a free lunch, a fruit basket, heck, even a ballpoint pen from a drug maker, you can bet that it's for a drug that's new, expensive, and still on patent (which means there's no cheap generic available). "There's no question that doctors are more likely to prescribe drugs that they're being lobbied on," says Avorn, "new ones being heavily marketed by pharmaceutical firms." The trouble with a new medication? "We might not know its long-term benefits or its track record for risks," explains Schwartz. "It's one thing if there's no other treatment available for your condition, but it's quite another if there are a lot of other treatments that have stood the test of time." She says if your doctor can't make a strong case for why a new treatment may be better, take the older one. Ditto for lifestyle changes. For those with mild depression, exercise can work just as well as an antidepressant. Salt-sensitive folks with high blood pressure may be able to reduce hypertension simply by lowering their sodium intake. And many of those with type 2 diabetes can reverse their condition by losing weight, increasing their activity, and cutting back on carbohydrates.