You’ve probably been to the pharmacy to have a prescription filled only to have a conversation that goes something like this:
Pharmacist: “Would you like a cheaper brand if it’s available?”
You: “Umm. What? A cheaper brand? Oh, um, I don’t know. Ah no, I’ll have the brand on the script, thanks.”
But what if that cheaper brand could do the same thing as the brand on the script, at a fraction of the price? Would you say ‘yes’ then?
Generic medicines — a bit like generic supermarket products
Just like supermarkets products have their generic equivalent, some medicines do as well. To understand why, you need to understand how medicines are developed.
After a pharmaceutical company develops a medicine, it takes out a patent on the product. This ensures that the company has the exclusive right to manufacture and sell that drug, meaning there is no competition from other pharmaceutical companies.
However, patents don’t last forever. When they expire, other drug companies are allowed to manufacture their own equivalent of the original medicine, in different packaging, providing these drugs are bioequivalent — that is, the medicine contains the same active ingredients. These medicines also meets the same government standards as the original medicine, for safety and efficiency. They are known as generic medicines.
Are generics the same as the original?
No. While generic medicines contain the same active ingredients as the original medication, and therefore have the same effect, some of the inactive substances may be different. For example:
- binders and fillers (that hold tablets together)
Most people will be able to take generic medications with no problems. However, some people may be allergic or intolerant to an ingredient the original branded medicine doesn’t contain. For example, some people may be lactose or gluten intolerant, or be allergic to some preservatives or colourings. Your pharmacist will be able to advise you.
It’s also worth noting that the potential side effects of the generic medication will be similar to the original one.
Should I take generics?
Overall, generic medicines are safe, efficient and can often save you money, but before taking them, ask your pharmacist the following five questions:
- Is it okay for me to choose a different brand of my medicine?
- What are the benefits and disadvantages for me if I use a different brand?
- Is there a difference in cost?
- Which of my usual medicines does this replace?
- What is the active ingredient in my medicine?
There are some generic medicines (such as warfarin), that may contain the same active ingredient but not be bioequivalent. In this case, stick with your usual brand. Your pharmacist should supply you with the brand that has been prescribed. Of course, if your doctor advises you to stick with one brand, then you should do so.
Most of the time, generic medicines are close enough to the original brand to be safe and effective. However, you have the final say in whether you take a generic substitute or the original medication.
For further information visit http://www.nps.org.au/topics/how-to-be-medicinewise/buying-medicines/generic-medicine-brands
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