***Story originally aired March 4, 2013***

A Vancouver man was shocked to learn the exact same prescription he filled at two different pharmacies varied significantly in price.

When Ali Khodaei came down with bronchitis recently, his doctor prescribed a common antibiotic called Azithromycin. Six pills cost Khodaei $30.37 at Shoppers Drug Mart: $18.77 for the drug itself and $11.60 for the dispensing fee.

Three days later Khodaei's wife got bronchitis. She went to the same doctor, received the same prescription with the same amount of pills, but there was a big price difference at London Drugs.

Khodaei’s wife paid $12.22 for the drug and $9.60 for the dispensing fee for a total of $21.82, a 50 per cent increase.

"I went back to Shoppers Drug Mart with both receipts, asked the pharmacist, why and she said ‘I cannot say anything’ and you have to call the head office. The price comes from there," said Khodaei.  

When Shoppers Drug Mart did not answer Khodaei's questions CTV contacted the company’s head office for clarification and was told, "just as the cost of milk can vary from store to store, so can the cost of a drug. Each pharmacy is permitted to have an inventory allowance cost."

Prices can even vary at drugstores within the same chain. CTV consumer reporter Lynda Steele did a search of the drug amoxicillin with a 250 mg dose in the Vancouver-area.  The Shoppers Drug Mart on West 4th Avenue charged 44 cents a pill, while the Shoppers on Broadway charged 49 cents a pill. The Shoppers Drug Mart on Granville Street charged 39 cents a pill.

"Nobody is protecting you because it looks like they can charge you whatever they want," said Khodaei.

Pacific Blue Cross has developed an online tool that lets consumers shop around for the best price for prescription drugs. It breaks it down by dispensing fee, drug cost and price per pill.

"And if you happen to be taking a brand name drug, it will also show you if there is a generic available and what the cost of the generic will be at that store," said Leza Muir, Senior Vice President, Claims Services at Pacific Blue Cross.

Khodaei believes consumers should not be forced to shop around for the best price. He wishes the Canadian government made it mandatory for pharmacies to offer consumers the same price on drugs, much like his home country of Iran.

The vice president of pharmacy at London Drugs told CTV that prices can differ for a number of reasons, including where the drugstore buys its stock and what kinds of surcharges it adds on for services like pill splitting or putting pills into blister packs.

There is some relief on the way for B.C. consumers. Generic drugs are about to get cheaper. Starting April 1, prices for generic prescription drugs will drop to 25 per cent of the brand name price and in 2014 will drop to 20 per cent of the brand name price. In the meantime, you can find the online drug price comparison tool at pharmacycompass.ca.