Drug prices for almost 200 brand name products frequently used by elderly citizens in the USA swelled an average of 0.9% in the second quarter of the year, overshooting inflation by 0.4%, according to the latest report by US lobby group AARP.

The increase slowed sharply from the 3.3% hike recorded in the first quarter, although the group says that this follows a seasonal pattern. "Average price increases for the second quarter of any given year tend to be lower than first quarter increases, and this trend continued in 2005,” AARP explained in a statement.

But for the 12 months ended June 30, the average rate of increase in manufacturers' prices hit 6.1%, just over double the rate of inflation for the same period. "When the Medicare drug benefit was passed, AARP issued a challenge to the drug industry to keep increases at least to the rate of inflation until people had better coverage. By and large, that's not happening. Prices are going up more than twice the rate of inflation," said David Gross, lead author of the report, as quoted by Forbes.

The AARP prepares its Rx Watchdog Report every quarter in order to track seasonal changes in drug pricing for its 35 million elderly members. According to its findings, a typical older citizen taking three prescription drugs a day is likely to be paying an extra $97.14 for the year to June 30, versus $144.15 for the 12 months to March 2005.

Leading the pack in terms of price increase over six months was Proctor & Gamble’s osteoporosis agent Actonel (risedronate), which rose 7.5%. This was closely followed by its peer, Eli Lilly’s Evista (raloxifene), up 6.2%. Other substantial price hikes were seen from AstraZeneca’s beta-blocker Toprol XL (metroprolol succinate), growing 6%, and Bristol-Myers Squibb’s cholesterol-buster Pravachol (pravastatin), rising 5.9%.

On a more positive note, the report found that the average annual cost of drug therapy to treat chronic conditions seems to be decelerating; for the year to June 30, the average annual rise was $32.38, versus $51.56 for 2004 and $48.05 for the year to March.