Generic Drugs – Benefits and Drawbacks

Your doctor has prescribed a well-known drug but hesitates over the prescription pad, or you’re standing in the aisle of your local pharmacy. You’re faced with an important choice – generic or name-brand? But what is generic, anyway? Are generic drugs safe or just cheap? Here are some benefits and drawbacks of generic medications:

Generic Defined

Accounting for over 50 percent of all drug sales in the United States, generic drugs are the same as brand-name drugs in safety, quality, strength and purpose. The FDA requires generic drugs to be as strong and stable as their brand-name counterparts. Though they are not allowed to look exactly like the brand-name drugs, generic medicines do have the same active ingredients. Generic medicines become available when the patents on their brand-name counterparts expire, usually after 17 years.

The Benefits – Affordability and Assurance

The main benefit of generic medicine can be felt in your pocketbook. Brand-name drugs cost more because their prices reflect the drug companies’ attempts to recoup the costs of research, development, testing and expensive marketing and advertising campaigns. Once generic medicines go on the market, they ride on the reputation of their brand-name counterparts, requiring much less overhead to produce and advertise and passing the savings along to the consumer. Plus, more availability of a drug drives prices down and keeps them low.

And the benefits don’t stop there. Each FDA-approved generic drug is required to be as effective and contain the same active ingredients of its brand-name counterpart. This assurance lets you know that you’re not wasting your money on an alternative that is merely cheap, but that isn’t as effective or safe as name-brand.

The Drawbacks – Availability and Ambiguity

If you’re looking for a generic version of every medication, you might be out of luck. Long patent terms mean that every drug does not yet have a generic counterpart. Consumer demand does play a role, but you might get caught waiting for a generic drug that won’t get approved for the general market for years.

In addition, though the safety of generic drugs is undisputed, their absorption may vary from brand-name drugs due to different non-active ingredients. Though generic drugs are required to have the same active elements, the form in which that active drug is delivered may vary in generic drugs, affecting the absorption time, although not necessarily the effectiveness, of the generic.

In summary, generic drugs are a good alternative to brand-name medications, but may not be readily available and may vary slightly from their mainstream counterparts. Still, there’s a reason that over half of the prescriptions in the United States are for generic medications – they are proven to be safe and effective, and lower prices make for happy – and healthy – consumers.

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