Wholesale prices for name-brand drugs jumped an average 7.1 percent in 2004 — the largest hike in five years and more than twice the rate of inflation, according to a study released Tuesday by AARP (search).

AARP's annual Rx Watchdog Report (search) tracked prices drug manufacturers charged wholesalers last year for about 200 prescription drugs popular with older Americans. The price hikes were the largest annual jump since AARP, the nation's largest lobbying group for the elderly, began sponsoring the study five years ago.

"We are disappointed that brand name manufacturers have failed to keep their price increases in line with inflation despite consumer appeals for them to hold the line," AARP chief Bill Novelli said in a statement. "Much more needs to be done to slow down spiraling drug pricing."

The 7.1 percent hike, slightly higher than 2003's 7.0 percent jump, continues a trend of increasing drug prices. Since the end of 1999, prices of more than 150 popular name-brand drugs have risen an average 35.1 percent, nearly three times the 13.5 percent inflation rate over that period, the report said. In 2004, inflation was 2.7 percent in 2004.

Among the 25 best-selling brand-name drugs on the market in 2003 and 2004, the sleep medication Ambien (10 mg. tablets) saw the largest price jump at 11.9 percent. Flomax, used to treat enlarged prostates, 0.4 mg. rose the least — 1.5 percent.

By contrast, the price for 75 popular generic drugs hardly budged in 2004, rising 0.5 percent. In 2003, manufacturers' prices for generic drugs went up an average 13.3 percent.

The report was prepared by the AARP Public Policy Institute and the PRIME Institute of the University of Minnesota.