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Copycat Drugs May Not Be Up to Scratch
(Brand Name vs. Generic Drugs)

By Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, B.Sc., M.D., Ph.D.
Article printed on page 28 in the November 28, 2012 issue of
The Mississauga News under the feature: Health & Beauty, Medicine Matters.
Portrait of Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, supplied 2005
Dr. Peter W. Kujtan

As our population ages, prescription pharmaceuticals are the fastest growing source of health care costs in Canada. In 2009, well over $25 billion were spent on the various elixirs of health and life.

I had an experience recently that really made me notice how the race for this pie can really affect patients. An elderly patient brought in all her medications for me to review, a point I tend to dwell on with patients.

Her blood pressure had surprisingly crept up in the last few months without explanation. As I glanced through her pill bottles, I noticed a bottle with both capsules and pills in it. I mistakenly concluded that her pills got mixed up, until she corrected and informed me that this mixture was intentional.

Her pharmacist had run out of one generic and seamlessly put a second generic in the same bottle. Technically, all the pills had the same active ingredient, but the desired action seems to be missing. I got to thinking and made some inquiries. We soon switched her to a branded product and within weeks things settled back to normal.

Another article in the medical press soon appeared about a senior who tried to save a few dollars and purchased what looked like brand name Lipitor, a cholesterol drug, in Mexico. She developed heart problems, which stopped when the drug was discontinued. Analysis showed the drug to be fake and her problems most likely due to one of the supposedly benign fillers used to produce the black market pill.

My view on generics has changed. Brand name drugs are ones that have undergone extensive research, investment and testing by a pharmaceutical company.

A generic is a drug with similar blood levels of the active molecule without regard to activity and effect. The fillers and other components are usually different or more numerous. It skips all the development and testing costs and copies another company's molecule after the patent expires. The key word is "similar", which means it can be 80% as good?

There are only a couple of generic companies which share the majority of financial windfall. Teams of legal experts take the place of researchers to keep the brand companies at bay.

Years ago, the concept was welcomed as a way to save costs, since generic costs were low. Laws were even passed forcing pharmacists to substitute with cheaper copycats. Some generic companies took advantage of this situation to boost their profits by raising prices but never to the point of equality to the genuine thing. They even provided bonus incentives to pharmacists who were most likely to notice.

The majority of my senior patients subsist on generics. Today, several generic versions of a single drug can end up in your pill bottle. It confuses how a sensitive condition is monitored

What worries me more is the lack of new and significant break-through drugs on the market since Brand companies now shy away from expensive research.

Generics have made my job harder. I now have to keep track of which generic copy a patient is taking of the original drug I prescribed, and you should too!

Related resources:

Generic drug from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Generic Drugs vs. Brand Name Drugs by Michael Kennedy, Reader's Digest Canada. "Generic drugs are considered 'just as good' as their more expensive brand-name counterparts - but, as one writer experienced, in certain circumstances their effects can be dangerously different."

Brand vs. Generic: What's the Difference? "The biggest difference between generic and brand-name drugs is price. While generic drugs fill more than 60% of all prescriptions in Canada, they account for only 25% of the $22.1-billion Canadians spend annually on prescription drugs."

The Safety and Effectiveness of Generic Drugs from Health Canada. "Nearly 45% of all prescriptions filled by pharmacies use generic drugs, and some hospitals use generic drugs almost exclusively ... The generic drug must contain the same amount of medicinal ingredient as the brand name reference product. However, non-medicinal ingredients, like fillers and ingredients that colour the drug, may be different from those of the brand name product."

Brand Name Vs Generic Medications: The Good, the Bad and the Funny (there are differences) from Crazy Meds.

Understanding Generic Drugs from U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Generic Drugs: Questions and Answers from FDA. What are generic drugs? How are generic drugs approved?

Facts and Myths about Generic Drugs from FDA. Q. Aren't brand name drugs better quality than generic drugs? Why else would they be more expensive?
A. A brand name drug (for example, Lipitor) is one that is manufactured by the company that originally created the product. A generic drug (for example, Novo-atorvastatin) is one that is manufactured to match the original product. Both drugs have the same chemical name: "atorvastatin", but one is a "copy" of the original, so they have different trade names.

Are Generics As Good As Brand-Name Drugs? By Andrew Weil, M.D.

Generic Drugs, Are They as Good as Brand Names? By Medical Author: Melissa Stoppler, M.D. and Medical Editor: Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D. "Generic drugs are copies of brand-name drugs that have exactly the same dosage, intended use, effects, side effects, route of administration, risks, safety, and strength as the original drug. In other words, their pharmacological effects are exactly the same as those of their brand-name counterparts. An example of a generic drug, one used for diabetes, is metformin. A brand name for metformin is Glucophage. (Brand names are usually capitalized while generic names are not.)

Generic Drugs Vs. Brand Name Drugs by Jessica Cook, eHow. Generic drugs are less expensive than their prescription counterparts. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that all generic drugs be identical to their brand-name equivalents in terms of ingredients and dosages.

Brand & Generic Prescription Drug Names from British Columbia Ministry of Health. Table provides a cross reference to common brand drug names.

Generic Drugs Versus Name Brand Drugs by Ben Pate. A generic version of a drug is a variation of a brand-name drug that has the exact same effectiveness, quality, safety, and strength, but at a much lower price.

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