Are Generic Drugs As Effective and Safe as Brand Name Drugs?

by Annie on December 27, 2010 · 5 comments

in Healthcare & Health Insurance

Generic drugs are one of the best ways to reduce cost of prescription medication. Within the next few years you will see a flood of expensive brand name prescription medication lose their 20 year patents. Any qualified drug manufacturer that meets FDA standards can produce cheap, high-quality copies of what had once been an expensive brand name prescription medication. Within the first year of losing their patents, generic drugs can lower the costs of prescription medication by 80% to 90%.

If generic drugs are such great bargain, then how come doctors still prescribe so many brand name prescription medications? It is the same reason why the sage advice of eating more vegetables and fruits are often lost in the noise of the Atkins diet, the baby food diet, the Zone diet, etc. Generic drugs have to overcome the massive marketing campaigns (ie. free samples from drug reps, free lunches, etc) of the brand name prescription medications.

Your doctor does not always know when you generic drugs is available

Typically within two years of patent expiration, a drug manufacturer drop all advertising, rebates, promotions, and free samples for that particular brand name prescription medication. Instead, the manufacturer introduces a “new and improved” version of the expiring prescription medication.

The new prescription medication often offers marginal benefits over the expiring medication. Usually the “new and improved” prescription medication does not contain any new active ingredients, but extended release formulation of the same active ingredient that may add some convenience to the patient.

In addition, the drug manufacturer initially prices the new prescription medicine slightly lower than the expiring medication. This slightly lower price and free samples from drug reps convince your doctor to start prescribing this “new and improved” prescription medication since it is better and cheaper than the expiring older formulation.

By the time the expiring prescription medicine becomes a generic drug everyone (including your doctor and you) would have forgotten about it. Once the old prescription medication becomes a generic drug, the drug manufacture raises the price on the “new and improved” prescription medication every year. And since you have fixed co-pays on your prescriptions, you will not see the price increase in a direct way. Instead, your health insurance premiums increase every year but nothing stands out as the specific reason for the premiums increase.

Are generic drugs the same as brand name drugs?

According to the FDA, generic drugs are the same as the brand name equivalents and are fully interchangeable. The FDA requires all generic drugs to have the same quality, strength, effectiveness, safety, purity, solubility, stability, and bioequivalence as the name brand drugs. Often, generic drugs are actually manufactured by the brand name drug manufacturer. However, there is a distinction between generic equivalent drugs and therapeutically similar drugs.

A generic equivalent drug has the same active chemical ingredient as its original brand name prescription medicine. For example, the active ingredient in Prilosec (brand name) and omeprazole (generic drug) has the exact same chemical structure and content. Taking the generic drug,omeprazole, is the same as taking Prilosec when taking the same dosage.

A therapeutically similar drug has a different chemical composition for its active ingredient from brand name drug, but has similar treatment effect for the health condition being treated. As noted in my drug substitution post, Lipitor (a cholesterol-lowering brand name prescription medicine) decreases LDL cholesterol and triglyceride. However, Zocor (a cholesterol lowering generic drug) raises HDL cholesterol. Though these two drugs are therapeutically similar with the ultimate goal to lower your cholesterol, how they are designed to achieve this end result is very different. And depending on your body, you might see an improvement with Liptor and see no effect with Zocor.

In every case a generic equivalent drug is just as effective and safe as the brand-name prescription drug. Your body may react differently to a therapeutically similar generic drug because of the different active chemical composition between the generic drug and the brand name prescription drug. In situations where your health condition (i.e. cholesterol, hypertension, asthma, epilepsy, etc.) requires a fine tune effective dose, you might want to make sure that the generic drug your doctor is prescribing is a generic equivalent drug and not a therapeutically similar drug.

Until next time and thanks for stopping by Small Steps to Health.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Eveline December 28, 2010 at 7:38 pm

Great post! One of best articles I’ve read so far regarding generic drugs!


asithi December 29, 2010 at 5:59 pm

Eveline – Thanks!


Head Coach January 8, 2011 at 1:20 pm

Indeed most doctors do not know whether or not a generic is available right away in most cases. In my case I always make sure that the doctor will write the generic chemical name in parenthesis next to the brand name so I have a reference for when I need to go to the drugstore later. The pharmacist will be able to quickly look it up and possibly even tell you when a name brand will be expiring on its patent so you can plan for the future to switch to a generic so you can get the discount.


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