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In a few weeks, the price of a prescription drug used to treat a common infection in women is expected to drop by as much as a third as stores begin to stock it for over-the-counter sales.

The expected price drop for Gyne-Lotrimin -- from about $21 to $25 now for a seven-day treatment by prescription to $17 to $18 -- follows the same pattern as for most products when they no longer require a doctor's prescription.

Industry representatives and analysts say companies can lower the price when a product can be sold over the counter because demand will generally increase and it is cheaper to produce the drug in larger quantities.

The "dispensing fee" also is eliminated with over-the-counter drugs. One survey showed these pharmacy fees ranged from $1.50 to $15 per prescription, said Steve Grote of Retired Persons Services Inc.

The average price of a prescription drug is $17, while the average cost of an over-the-counter drug is $4, said Jack Walden, a spokesman for the Nonprescription Drug Manufacturers Association.

But Sidney Wolfe, director of the Public Citizen Health Research Group, said even though nonprescription prices are lower, most of them still are too high.

The lower price for nonprescription drugs "is neutralized by the fact that the price of the drug is higher than it need be," he said.

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