Health Alert

Dr. Campbell: Generic vs brand-name drugs

By Dr. Kevin Campbell -

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) - A new study recently published in the Annals of Internal Medicine evaluated prescribing practices and the use of generic versus brand-name medication.

Generic medications are always cheaper than brand-name medications. In almost all cases, generic prescriptions are just as effective in treating a particular disease.

Generic drugs are copies of brand-name drugs that have exactly the same dosage, intended use, effects, side effects, route of administration, risks, safety and strength as the original drug.

In other words, their pharmacological effects are exactly the same as those of their brand-name counterparts. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) require that generic drugs be as safe and effective as brand-name drugs.

Sometimes, generic versions of a drug have different colors, flavors or combinations of inactive ingredients than the original medications. Trademark laws in the United States do not allow the generic drugs to look exactly like the brand-name preparation, but the active ingredients must be the same in both preparations, ensuring that both have the same medicinal effects.

Generic prescriptions can be used once a patent expires on a brand-name drug. Brand-name drugs are significantly more expensive than generics. The FDA requires that generics must be proven to be equivalent to the brand-name. This is defined as having similar concentrations of the active ingredient in the drug found in the blood.

Most clinical trials that have compared generic versus brand-name meds have found no difference in their therapeutic effectiveness. There are a few meds that the brand-name may be more effective - brand-name thyroid meds is one of these. It is important to discuss the choice of generic versus brand-name with your doctor.

In the new study that was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, investigators found that Medicare could save $1.4 billion if generic substitutions were made for diabetes drugs alone. In addition, researchers concluded that prescribing generic medicines instead of brand-name drugs whenever possible cuts costs, improves patient adherence and improves health outcomes, according to a new recommendation from the American College of Physicians.

Many physicians tend to prescribe expensive drugs that are provided samples in their office by drug representatives. Once the samples are used, the patient is faced with a relatively expensive bill at their pharmacy. The study also found that many patients simply stop taking the medicine rather then discuss the cost with their physician. This can lead to worsening clinical outcomes.

Tips for patients:

1. Understand your health condition.

2. Ask questions of your physician.

3. When your doctor prescribes a medicine ask if there is a generic alternative.

4. Always report any drug side effects to your healthcare provider.

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