Priceless prescriptions

Anyone who's had a cold or sinus infection knows antibiotics can often be expensive. So a Southern-based chain of supermarkets is offering a priceless - literally - solution to costly medications.

Pharmacies at Publix stores are now offering seven common antibiotics for free to their customers. The deal is offered at 684 of the chain's pharmacies throughout the United States, including 18 in Gwinnett, said Shannon Patten, a Publix spokeswoman.

"All customers would need is a legitimate prescription and that antibiotic is free," Patten said.

With a valid prescription, up to a 14-day supply of the antibiotics, including Amoxicillin and Penicillin VK, are available for free to customers. The deal is valid regardless of the customer's insurance provider or plan, Patten said.

"There's really no limit on the scrips as to how many a customer can receive," Patten said. She said only 14 pills are available at a time, but refills, with a refill prescription, are permitted.

The antibiotics would normally cost customers anywhere from $10 to $60 per dose, Patten said.

Why give consumers these medicines for free? Patten said the Florida-based company is looking to help customers with their prescription costs and continue to build its loyal customer base.

"With health costs increasing, we realize it's expensive and some customers are struggling to buy both prescriptions and groceries," Patten said. "The role Publix is serving in the community is to realize there is a need and do something."

Publix isn't the only retail chain to offer such a program. Meijer, a Michigan-based discount superstore, offers the same deal at its stores in Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Kentucky.

Retailers Wal-Mart and Sam's Club offer a similar program. More than 300 types of prescriptions, from antibiotics to heart medication, are available at the stores' pharmacies at a reduced cost of $4. According to Wal-Mart's Web site, the drugs included in the "$4 Prescriptions" program account for almost 30 percent of the prescriptions Wal-Mart pharmacies dispense each year.

Publix launched its free antibiotic program last week, and so far, customers are pleased, Patten said.

"The customers are so excited about it," Patten said.

With two children, ages 8 years and 6 months old, Jamila English of Lawrenceville said she would take advantage of the free antibiotic program if she or her children got sick.

Tara Jones of Lawrenceville said she was unaware of the new offering, but said she would consider using the free prescriptions if needed.

"Yeah, if I was bad enough that I had to go to the doctor to get a prescription I would," Jones said of the free antibiotics.

While Publix company policy is not to reveal sales or specific pharmacy information, Patten said the particular antibiotics offered account for "almost 50 percent of the generic, pediatric prescriptions" filled at Publix stores.

According to Patten, Publix pharmacies will continue to offer the free antibiotics as long as customers find the offer beneficial.

Most Publix pharmacies are open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and from noon to 7 p.m. Sunday.