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4 Common Misconceptions About Generic Drugs

December 09, 2016
4 common misconceptions about generic drugs

Generic drugs play a major role in making medications affordable for many Americans. About 80 percent of all prescriptions are filled with generic drugs, saving consumers an estimated $8 billion to $10 billion every year, according to the FDA. In fact, according to recent figures, generic drugs can save consumers as much as 90 percent over the cost of the brand-name version. Overall, generics average 40 to 60 percent lower in price.

Despite their advantages, many people remain confused about generic vs. brand-name drugs. It’s not uncommon for some people to distrust generic drugs, thinking they are not held to the same standards as their brand-name counterparts. But Food and Drug Administration guidelines require that in order for a generic drug product to be approved it must meet rigorous standards established with respect to identity, strength, quality, purity and potency.

Still, a host of misconceptions about generic drug manufacturing, cost and availability persist. So let’s look at some of the myths – and facts – about generics.

Misconception: Generic drugs are different formulations than brand-name drugs.

Fact: Some variability can and does occur during mass manufacturing of both brand-name and generic drugs. Those differences are generally very minimal and allowed, within certain limits, by the FDA.

“Generics are supposed to mimic the brand,” says John Norton, director of public relations, National Community Pharmacists Association. “On rare occasions there might be a minor difference, but that is because the coding for something like a time-released prescription drug might be so complex that a minor issue might arise. But this is not something that happens often.”

According to the FDA, generic drugs are generally developed after a drug has a long track history upon which to build.

Misconception: All brand-name drugs have generic counterparts.

Fact: Not every brand-name drug has a generic counterpart. When new drugs are first developed, they have drug patents. Most drug patents are protected for 20 years, which protects the company that made the drug and prevents others from making and selling it. Once the patent expires, other drug companies can start selling a generic version of the drug. But they must first test the drug and receive FDA approval.

Misconception: Generic drugs are not as effective as brand-name counterparts.

Fact: Some consumers still question the effectiveness of generics because of their lower prices, but the price differential is easily explained. It isn’t that the product is of lesser quality but has more to do with the cost of developing and bringing the drug to market in the first place.

Misconception: There’s no reason for brand-name drugs to cost more than generics.

Fact: Creating a drug from scratch costs a great deal of money, but since generic drug makers do not develop their product from scratch they don’t have the same kind of costs to bring the drug to market. However, generic drug makers must show their product performs in the same way as the brand-name drug and that it meets all the same standards.

Although Avrom Fox of North Shore Patient Advocates has concerns about prescription costs, he points out that generics are a godsend to many consumers.

“Generic drugs can certainly save people a lot of money. Most health insurance companies have a co-pay on drugs and that co-pay is typically $5 or $10 or even zero,” he said. “When generic drugs [are used to fill prescriptions] many people don’t even realize it.”

Misconception: Physicians prescribe brand-name drugs to help the drug manufacturers make more money.

Fact: One reason some physicians routinely prescribe brand-name drugs is because patients ask for them, according to a study published by American Journal of Managed Care, detailed in Science2.0. Almost 39 percent of physicians surveyed prescribed brand-name medications instead of generic drugs as a direct result of patient requests. Such prescriptions contribute to the approximately 30 percent of unnecessary healthcare expenses each year.

The American College of Physicians has called for all doctors to prescribe generic medications over brand-name drugs, whenever possible, to improve treatment adherence and reduce healthcare spending.

“While the use of generic drugs has increased over time, clinicians often prescribe more expensive brand-name drugs when equally effective, well-proven, and less expensive generic versions are available,” ACP President Wayne J. Riley, MD, MPH, MBA, MACP, said in a release. “The use of generic drugs is a way to improve health, avoid harm and eliminate wasteful practices.”