Meds and you

Updated 22 March 2013

Are generics a good option?

Have you ever hesitated when your pharmacist offered you the option of generic substitution?

Have you ever hesitated when your pharmacist offered you the option of generic substitution? Generic medicines have been around for many years, and yet there still seems to be a general lack of understanding of, or confidence placed in generics.

In the minds of the lay public, a generic medicine or 'imitator' product is often deemed to be inferior because it is cheaper than the branded or 'innovator' product. There may even be concerns in terms of its effectiveness - is it as safe or as strong as the originator ('innovator') medicine?

Affordable option for many

This needn't be the case, however, believes Peter Jordan, Principal Officer of Fedhealth. "Nowadays generics are bioequivalent to the original branded products and are a far more affordable medicinal option for many South Africans. They should be considered and recommended, where appropriate," he says.

Generic drugs may be up to 30% (and often more) cost-effective than the brand-name. "It is reassuring to know that, for the great majority of medicines, generic drugs offer the same safety and efficacy as their more expensive equivalents.

The Medicines Control Council (MCC) requires that a generic drug deliver the same amount of the same active ingredient into the bloodstream at the same rate - and they're very strict about this requirement."

Generic drug less costly

Generic drugs are less expensive because they don't require the same investment cost required for the research and development of a new drug - which may total billions. New drugs are developed under patent protection.

The patent protects the investment - including research, development, marketing and promotion - by giving the company the sole right to sell the drug while the patent is in effect in order to recoup the money they've invested.

After 15 years, the patent expires and any generic manufacturer can produce a generic equivalent product thereafter and sell it at a lower cost and under a different trade name. Once generic drugs are approved, competition keeps the price down.

Jordan points out that both the branded and generic drug must meet the same standards of good manufacturing practice (GMP). The MCC strictly prohibits manufacturing of drugs in sub-standard facilities and biannual MCC inspections are conducted to ensure GMP standard.

Same manufacturer used for meds

 "Generic firms have facilities comparable to those of brand-name firms. Another important point to consider is that your generic drugs could be made by the same company making the brand-name drug because brand-name firms are responsible for manufacturing a high percentage of generic drugs," he adds.

There is fierce competition in the generics market which is advantageous for South Africans, particularly in tough economic times. The stronger the competition, the more competitive prices become. Yet, South Africa is still ranked low in terms of generic usage when compared to Western countries worldwide.

Moving forward, and in an effort to provide affordable healthcare for all South Africans, Jordan believes that generics will start to be recognised as sound alternatives to innovator products and medical professionals will prescribe them with more confidence.

"The Medicines and Related Substances Act 1965, allows pharmacists to inform the public of the benefits of generics. Doctors too will start prescribing generics more readily in the future. Where there are requests from patients for cheaper generic alternatives, medical professionals will have to accede to such requests."

In terms of medical schemes, generics mean members get far more mileage out of their day-to-day benefits, especially those on chronic medication.

"While there may not be generics available for all medications prescribed, there are many on the market. Members should consider generics, as these will assist in stretching their benefits, rather than them running out of benefits early in the year," says Jordan.

(Press release, Fedhealth)

(Picture: pack of pills from Shutterstock)



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