B.C. will slash the cost of some generic prescription drugs under a new deal reached with pharmacists. ((CBC) )

The price of generic prescription drugs in B.C. will drop by almost 50 per cent under a new deal reached with drug stores and pharmacists, according the Health Minister Kevin Falcon.

"Quite simply, we were paying too much for some of the most popular drugs for high blood pressure, heartburn, depression, epilepsy and cholesterol," said Falcon on Friday morning. "Change was needed if we want to keep drug costs sustainable and redirect the money to cover new drugs and provide better services."

Under the deal, the cost of generic prescription drugs will drop from 65 per cent of the brand name cost to 35 per cent.

Just as Ontario did when it moved to slash generic prices this spring, B.C. will achieve the savings by scaling back the rebates pharmacists get from generic drug manufacturers for selling their drugs, which can run as high as 60 to 70 per cent of the dollar value of the drug.

Ontario eliminated those rebates completely (B.C. is merely reducing them) and mandated that generics cost no more than 25 per cent of the brand drug, down from 50 per cent, effective July 1.

The new prices in B.C. will apply only to drugs covered by PharmaCare but will be available to employee and union drug plans and customers who pay for drugs out of pocket.

Ontario has made the deepest cuts to generic drug prices, but Alberta and Quebec have also recently reached similar cost-cutting deals with the industry.

The B.C. deal is expected to save the government about $170 million a year in PharmaCare purchases while union- and employer-sponsored drug plans and individuals buying their own drugs are expected to save another $210 million per year.

The deal, which will be phased in over three years, will also increase dispensing fees for pharmacists to help them cover the decline in revenue from the reduced prices.

The province spends more than $900 million a year on prescription drugs through the PharmaCare program, with generic drugs accounting for nearly $300 million of that amount.

PharmaCare covers some of the cost of prescription drugs for British Columbians who fall into a specified income bracket.