6 Misconceptions About Generic Drugs: Q&A with Consumer Reports

Elizabeth Davis
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Did you know that more than 80 percent of prescriptions are filled with generic drugs? Generics are just as effective and safe as their brand-name counterparts, but since they generally cost substantially less, they save consumers an estimated $8 to $10 billion a year.  Yet according to a recent survey from Consumer Reports, four in ten Americans have concerns or misconceptions about generics.

We sat down with Ginger Skinner, associate editor for Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs, to clear up some common questions about generics.

GoodRx: When and why do drugs go generic?

BBD: Around 12 to 15 years after a brand name drug’s initial release, its patent expires and generic drug makers can legally manufacture drugs that contain the same active ingredient. So essentially, generic drugs are copies of brand name drugs.

GoodRx: Why do generic drugs cost less?

BBD: Generics can cost up to 95 percent less than brands. That’s because generic manufacturers don’t have the expense of developing them from scratch and rarely spend money on advertising. And those lower costs can translate to better adherence—there’s research suggesting that people who use generics are more likely to stay on the drugs as directed, compared with those who use costlier brand-name drugs.

GoodRx: Is the generic version of my prescription as effective as the brand name?

BBD: Yes, it is. And I’m glad you asked because concerns about efficacy (how well generic work) were pronounced in our recent poll. So that’s a myth we want to dispel. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that all generic drugs contain the same active ingredients in the same strength as their brand-name counterparts. Case in point: a 2008 study that evaluated the results of 38 published clinical trials comparing generic heart drugs to their brand-name versions found no evidence that the brand names were more effective than generics. Generics are also required to have the same purity and stability, come in the same form—for example, tablet, patch, or liquid—and be administered the same way as their brand-name counterparts.

GoodRx: What about safety—are generic drugs as safe as their brand name counterparts?

BBD: Just as generics and brand names contain the same active ingredients, they also have the same benefits and risks.

GoodRx: Since generics cost less, does that mean they aren’t held to the same standards?

BBD: You may worry that generics cost less because they’re inferior to more recognizable brand names, but that’s not the case. Generics are required to meet the same manufacturing standards as brands. Generic manufacturers must also demonstrate that their drug is “bioequivalent” to its brand version by showing that it delivers the same amount of active ingredients into a person’s bloodstream in the same time as the original brand. In other words, you get the same therapeutic effect from the generic as with the brand.

GoodRx: Could my generic prescription have different side effects than the brand?

BBD: While the active ingredient in brand-name and generic medications work exactly the same, by law, generics cannot look the same as their branded version due to patent issues. So, aside from costs, the biggest differences between generics and brand names are cosmetic—they may differ in shape, color, taste and their inactive ingredients. But these differences have no effect on the drug’s quality or safety. The only exception is in rare cases where someone may be allergic to an inactive ingredient.

For more facts on generics, visit www.CRBestDrugsForLess.org
Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs is a public education project dedicated to helping you talk to your doctor about prescription drugs and helping you find the most effective and safest drugs for the best price. To stay up to date on Best Buy Drugs news and advice, connect on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up for free monthly e-alerts.

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