Generic vs Brand: How Do Cholesterol Meds Measure Up?

Dr. Sharon Orrange
Dr. Orrange is an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine in the Division of Geriatric, Hospitalist and General Internal Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
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People are more likely to take their cholesterol medication when it costs less. While this may seem obvious to you, the medical community did a study on this question to find come to that conclusion! The results were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, a medical journal, where they made news.

Generic medications are cheaper than brand names—so you are more likely to fill and take your statin cholesterol medication if it’s generic, and you will do better overall.

Why Statins? Statins (simvastatin, atorvastatin and Crestor) are the most frequently prescribed drugs in the United States and work to reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels and cardiovascular events like heart attacks. Crestor is only available as a brand name while Lipitor (atorvastatin) and Zocor (simvastatin) have generic versions. This may seem obvious, but brand-name statin drugs are expensive and generics are much cheaper.

Many of you don’t take your statin as prescribed. We know that patients don’t always take their medication as it’s recommended, and therefore may not receive the full benefit. About half of patients discontinue their statin within 1 year of starting. Half! Cost is a huge reason why you don’t take them. Yes, side effects scare some folks away, but reducing patient spending for prescription drugs can improve adherence (and, in some cases, outcomes.

Are generic statin drugs just as good? 90,000 people in this study just told you the answer to this, and it’s yes. Generic drugs have been shown to be clinically equivalent to their brand-name counterparts, and after this study we know you are more likely to take a generic statin long term. This gives you an 8% lower rate of a cardiovascular event (heart attack) and death.

What now? Well, the brand name cholesterol medication Crestor remains a top selling product in the United States and made over 5.3 billion dollars in 2013. Is there any indication that Crestor helps you more than the generic statins? No. Crestor wasn’t approved in 2006 when this study took place but remember, the folks taking generic statins had a lower risk of heart attack and death. So, all indicators are that you don’t need to waste your money on a brand-name cholesterol medication.

This is good news for your pocketbook. Starting a generic versus a brand-name statin seems to be associated with lower out-of-pocket costs, improved likelihood you’ll keep taking it, and improved health.

Dr O.

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