Generic drugs right for you? |

Generic drugs right for you?

Drew Werner

My children don’t like that type of cereal or potato chips. Those types of bandages just don’t stick as well. That type of dishwasher detergent just seems to leave more spots. What am I talking about? Generics of course!

According to “Ask Jeeves,” generic is defined as “a) relating to or characteristic of a whole group or class; b) being or having a nonproprietary name; c) having no particularly distinctive quality or application.”

That certainly doesn’t sound too exciting to me. In fact, the only thing going through my head is “you get what you pay for.” I don’t want to drive a “generic” car. I don’t want a “generic” quarterback leading my team.

That leads us to this weeks question, and an excellent one at that:

Dear Doc,

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Tell me about those generic drugs. I don’t think they’re really any good. Should I take them?

– No Generics Allowed!

Sometimes there are simple answers – if something doesn’t work, we don’t use it. Other times, well, here goes S

The FDA first allowed generic drugs in 1984 under the Drug Price Competition And Patent Term Restoration Act. Its purpose was to allow companies the ability to produce generic copies of brand-name drugs with out having to go through the rigorous research needed to prove them safe and effective. The result is significant savings in research dollars, testing, drug development and marketing. Much of this savings is passed onto you the consumer. The generic drug companies still profit, however, so don’t feel too bad for them. The most significant advantage is the cost savings and greater availability to each of you.

The million-dollar question (literally) is: Are generic drugs as good? The answer is … drum roll please S yes! Now, I need to qualify that answer. The FDA has very strict regulations regarding all generic drugs. Unlike generic household products or foods, which are “close to” or “almost as good as” their branded counterparts, generic drugs are equivalent. More than requiring that generic drug have the same ingredients as the trade name drug, the FDA requires that they are bioequivalent. That means that when given in the same dose as the branded drug, the same level of medication can be measured in the bloodstream. For most people that is as close as can be and generics work just fine.

The next million-dollar question is why doesn’t everyone use generics? That answer is both real and philosophical. Some people don’t do as well on generic medications. While the systemic levels may be the same, the tablets are different. The size or shape may be more difficult to swallow. The base the drug is delivered in may not be as well tolerated. Finally, a 3 percent to 5 percent variation from the brand drug is accepted. That means if you fill your daily medication with a different generic manufacturer each month, the actual dose could vary by 6 percent to 10 percent. One generic could be 3 percent to 5 percent high, another 3 percent to 5 percent low. Always purchasing the drug from the same manufacturer results in better consistency. This is true when buying brand name drugs or a generic. The problem is that it is almost impossible to guarantee that a pharmacy is using the same generic manufacturer each month. For medicines where a specific blood level of the drug needs to be measured, this may be important. Commonly used drugs like this include Coumadin (warafin), Digoxin (lanoxin), Synthroid (levothyroxine) and some seizure medications.

Now, for the philosophical part. If we only had generic drug companies there would be no new drugs, no research for new cures and no new treatments for conditions that afflict us. Hundreds of drugs are researched to bring one new drug successfully to market. The pharmaceutical company then has usually seven years to make a profit. Are new drugs better? Generally yes. They are often better tolerated (think fewer side effects), easier to take (we have more and more once a day or even once a week medications), or more potent (stronger). Those differences, however, may be very small or not even noticed by most people. If you’re not having side effects from your current treatment, why change? If it is easy for you to remember something twice a day, why is once a day better?

What is best for you is based on a decision between you and your doctor. When a prescription is written, a physician decides whether or not to check a little box on the prescription labeled “DAW.” Standing for “dispense as written,” checking that box means you’ll get two things: the brand name drug and a bigger bill. We have a responsibility to ourselves to do what is best. At the same time, we have a responsibility to save medical costs. There is only so much to go around in terms of health care dollars and what we save now can be well spent in the future. We are very fortunate to have generic drugs to save costs and trade name drugs to ensure our future of new and better drugs. Choose well and make sure you are well informed by your doctor.

Dr. Drew Werner of the Eagle Valley Medical Center writes a weekly column for the Daily. He encourages health questions. Write him by e-mail to or c/o Editor, Vail Daily, P.O. Box 81, Vail, 81658.

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