Are generic medicines as safe as branded ones?

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Have you ever been offered a generic version of a branded medicine that your doctor  prescribed and been unsure if it will work in the same way?

Generic medicines contain the same active ingredient as a brand-name equivalent.

Pharmaceutical companies whose drugs have come off patent must allow them to be manufactured by a competing, generic company.

The philosophy behind this is that the generic version ought to be considerably cheaper, because the second manufacturer has not had to invest in expensive trials and testing of the drug to ensure it is safe and at what dose it is effective.

This is good for customers and ultimately for the lower subsidies the Government’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme pays towards the cost of medicine.

“When companies develop a new medication they have a period of exclusivity – normally around 10 years – where only they can produce that drug,” Aine Heaney, a pharmacist and spokesperson at NPS Medicinewise, said in an article published by HCF (the Hospitals Contribution Fund of Australia).

“When that exclusive period ends, other companies can copy the drug and bring out their own version,” she said.

Under Australian law, the generic medicine must work in exactly the same way as its brand-name equivalent. That is, the active ingredient must have the same bioequivalence.

However, other ingredients, such as binders, fillers, colours and preservatives, can be different between generics and branded medicines.

In some case, this may affect how efficiently the medicine works in some people, especially if they have allergies or intolerances to substances such as lactose or gluten.

“The patient information leaflet in the pack lists every ingredient in the drug so you can compare this and see if there’s a difference in what the drug contains that might account for any new side effects,” Ms Heaney said.

“Because the drugs are cheaper, people often think they must be lower quality which can trigger a nocebo effect where they think the drugs don’t work as well.”

This is the opposite to a placebo effect, where a person’s symptoms improve because they have convinced themselves that the medicine they took was effective.

Not all branded drugs that are out of patent have a cheaper, generic version.

“These are drugs with what’s known as a narrow therapeutic index – that means the dose window at which the drug works is very small – too little won’t give effects and too much can be toxic. For this reason, it’s hard to create bioequivalence,” Ms Heaney said.

Such drugs are the blood thinner warfarin, the heart drug digoxin and some anti-seizure drugs, according to Pharmacy Practice Journal and Epilepsy Australia.

Before swapping from a branded to a generic medicine, discuss it with your doctor.

Do you prefer branded or generic drugs? Does it even matter?

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Written by Olga Galacho


Total Comments: 24
  1. 0

    If you don’t want the generic drug then you should have to pay the extra for the non generic one.

    • 0

      Haha. I think you and I pay full price Old Geezer. No Government subsidies going for true blue savers.

      I do find the Chemist warehouse much cheaper though and worth exploring prices.

      I use ear drops for tropical ear infections and the generic doesn’t work for me as well as the original. I’m lactose intolerant so that might be why.

      The script costs $8:90 at the Chemist Warehouse but $22:80 at the local pharmacy in a retirement village hot spot. I think they are simply ripping off the elderly captive consumers.

    • 0

      You do! I prefer a certain drug to be the original so have to pay an extra $3’s something. Some drugs it’s higher or lower.

  2. 0

    YLC must be slipping, it must be at least a month or so since we last rehashed the same old arguments about generic drugs. Either the heat causing addled brains, or a a slow news day.

  3. 0

    The original manufacturer, who completed the testing and trials at considerable time and expense, should continue to be supported, not some opportunistic latecomer coming, most probably from China or India. Most chemists try to squeeze extra profits for themselves by promoting these alternate generic products. I personally won’t have a bar of it and, if my chemist can’t supply the original medication I go to the next one.

  4. 0

    One reason chemists push you towards generics is that, if they are in a franchise group such as Amcal, Terry White etc., they get a better profit margin on generics which are often made by their franchisor!
    So the poor pensioner is faced with paying $6.50 for an unknown generic or maybe $20 or more for the prescribed medication name.

  5. 0

    Generic or original,, probably the most important thing is to be consistent with your brand. There are probably some differences in absorption rate particularly with slow release formulations which may or may not be noticeable. If offered a generic the first time you have a script filled – take it. There is no reason not to. If you look closely at an original brand box you will probably find it has been manufactured in Asia anyway ( even if the company is Australian ). Pharmacies are able to procure their “home brands” cheaper so yes they do make a greater profit. Chemist Warehouse are cheaper because of their huge buying capabilities and because they pay their staff a pittance. How often I have seen people in my local pharmacy asking for advice about medicine they procured from Chemist Warehouse. Drug companies make their money when first a drug comes on the market. After generic companies are able to market the drug, the price then usually comes down accordingly. ( Come on – how many of you know this with Viagra ). It is all business strategies just like any other business.

  6. 0

    The article says “Under Australian law, the generic medicine must work in exactly the same way as its brand-name equivalent.” When was the last time we heard that a therapeutic product “should or must” meet Australian standards? Mesh implants, breast implants, reproductive control products etc etc. The worry is no-one, certainly not the TGA is checking to make sure that they do. So how are we to be sure that the product made in India is the same as the Australian, US or European original? Why is it that the generic products always seems to be a uniform $1.00 cheaper than the original?

    • 0

      Not “the same ” as but “bioequivalence” of the drug. This is tested before marketing.

      Which products are you taking made in Australia, US or Europe – not even the original brands in most cases.

      I believe you are confusing the difference in price of a dollar as being the cost of generic vs original rather than the $1 discount on PBS price pharmacies are allowed to make. This has only been in effect for a couple of years. It is a direct discount by the individual pharmacy that the government has allowed in recent years and is at the discretion of the pharmacy should it be able to afford it. Be warned if you usually reach your safety net that it will take a greater number of scripts in a year to reach that safety net under this pricing arrangement. Saves the government a lot of money!

    • 0

      “generic products always seems to be a uniform $1.00 cheaper than the original”

      I haven’t found that at all – my wife and I take a few drugs and when we’ve had generics there has been a wide range of price differences.

  7. 0

    OG the non generic is always dearer than the generic.

  8. 0

    I have just changed to a generic blood pressure tablet, I did a lot of research on the generic brand that I was changing to, I couldn’t find any difference in the contents of the tablet, but I guess if they are made differently then that might create a different result, I consulted my doctor and she didn’t have a problem with me changing, I also spoke to my chemist who also agreed it would be ok. I regularly check my blood pressure and there has been no change, so I am happy to continue. The cost difference was a drop from $10.05 to $6.30 not a huge amount I know but with all the other medication I take every bit helps. I note the comment that the original manufacturer did all the research so they should therefore be allowed to reap the benefits, I agree and I think that 10 years of exclusivity should be enough for them to reclaim their outlay.

  9. 0

    I must admit I have always used generics however after being in hospital for three weeks over Christmas there was so much confusion with the nurses not knowing what branded medication was equivalent to my generics that I have decided to go back to branded.

    • 0

      It’s up to the nurses to know the ingredient in the brand generic or otherwise. Part of their training and if they don’t know, they can look it up easily enough in Mimma online.
      ( registered Nurse recently retired)

  10. 0

    I always get generic medications to save. Never buy Panadol – there are much cheaper versions of paracetamol, even Coles own brand, with exactly the same strength. It’s particularly annoying when people use ‘panadol” as the general name for paracetamol.
    It’s a similar story with ibuprofen – don’t buy the well -known name (Neurofen), but get plain label.

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