Pharmacy Times

What Patients Should Know About Generic Drugs


Every year, about 56% of all prescriptions filled in the United States are filled with generic medicines. They have become so common that today over half of the drugs listed in the FDA's Orange Book have generic counterparts, and more are awaiting FDA approval every day. Their popularity stems from the fact that patients, as well as managed care plans, can save a great deal of money with generics?from 30% to 60% of the cost of branded pharmaceuticals.

More and more generics are being dispensed each day. As a number of blockbuster drugs come off patent as early as this year, patients will have a greater variety of generics to choose from. Also, Medicare Part D encourages the use of generics to help alleviate costs to both patients and the government.

Even though many patients are aware of generics, they may not know enough about them to realize that they can cut the costs of their necessary medicines without cutting the quality of their health care. When referred to a generic drug, patients may seem hesitant. It is important that they know the facts so that they can trust the generic choice.

What Is a "Generic" Drug?

When offered a generic medicine, the patient should understand that generic drugs are comparable to branded drugs. They contain the same active ingredients and deliver the same amount of medication to the body. They may look different from the branded drugs, but they perform the same.

The FDA regulates all generic products under strict guidelines, including validating the formulation, potency, and stability of every generic drug. Through various tests and procedures, the FDA ensures that the generics are pharmaceutically and therapeutically equivalent, as well as bioequivalent, to their branded counterparts. According to the FDA, there has never been a case in which an approved generic could not be interchanged with its branded alternative.

How Can Patients Know If Generics Are the Right Choice?

The best individual to make the call on generics for any patient is the patient's health care provider. The physician can make the best decision, based on any other medications the patient is taking and other health concerns that need to be considered. The doctor also can specify that a generic not be used in place of a branded drug, if he or she thinks that the branded drug is the best course of therapy.

Pharmacists, however, have years of experience with different pharmaceuticals and are kept up-to-date on the latest developments and changes in available medicines. If the physician does not specify "Dispense as written," all US states have laws allowing pharmacists to make generic substitutions in most cases. Most prescription plans even encourage such substitutions to help save on overall costs. Sometimes the pharmacist must first obtain the physician's approval.