Generics: As good as name-brand drugs? Yes

As a Valentines’ Day present to yourself, you might ask your doctor if any of your prescriptions are coming available as generics.

2015 is slated to be a big year for popular name-brand drugs to come off patent. Some of the big names on the list are Abilify, Nexium, Epipen, Namenda, Zyvox and Emend.

Here’s a list of anticipated generic medications: Release dates may be delayed if manufacturers get into legal squabbles with each other.

Many generic manufacturers are actually owned by brand-name drug manufacturers, notes Chad Hope, a fellow state pharmacist. For example:

• Pfizer (brand name manufacturer) owns Greenstone pharmaceuticals (generic manufacturer)

• Novartis (brand name manufacturer) owns Sandoz Pharmaceuticals (generic manufacturer)

• TEVA is both a brand name manufacturer and a generic manufacturer

Why go generic? Because it’s safe, effective and much cheaper.

My colleague Hope sums it up well: “Generics are the same drug, the same dose, the same dosage form, are less expensive, work the same way in the body, and are every bit as safe as brand name drugs.”

The best informed customers – pharmacists and physicians – know this and show it when they shop. A study ( ) last year found that they are far more likely than the average consumer to buy generic headache remedies, for example. A little trivia: The same study found that chefs are more likely to buy non-name brand staples such as salt and sugar.

The financially savvy are onboard too – generics typically cost 80 to 85 percent less than a brand-name.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration said nearly eight in 10 prescriptions filled in the United States are for generic drugs, and that ratio is expected to grow over the next few years as new options become available.

For those who aren’t familiar with the process, drug companies spend a considerable amount of money to develop a new drug, so they apply for patents that give them the right to sell the drug without competition for a time, usually 20 years. After the patent expires, other companies can legally develop and sell a drug with the same active ingredient, at the same strength.

Don’t be thrown if your generic pill looks different than the name-brand. U.S. trademark laws require generics to look different from name-brand drugs, so they come in various shapes and colors, and may have different inactive ingredients, such as flavorings. Some may look very similar, if the brand-name and generic manufacturers are associated, as mentioned above.

The bottom line is that the FDA requires generic manufacturers to prove their drug performs the same, and holds all manufacturing, packaging and testing sites to the same quality standards.

There are a few drugs that are particularly finicky to produce, so your provider may prefer you to take a name-brand drug. Phenytoin, Digoxin and Warfarin are examples.

To find more information online, visit and click on the “Money & meds” button at left, or visit, then scroll down and click on “Consumers” in the “Resources for you” box.

If finances are tight in general, it may be worth calling Alaska Public Assistance to see if you are eligible for financial assistance programs. Call 465-3347 or visit an office (you can find locations online) to ask about applying for programs such as Medicaid. Another is Alaska’s Senior Benefits Program, which provides cash assistance for seniors with low to moderate incomes. The Senior Benefits office number is 352-4150, or 888-352-4150.

A call to the Aging & Disabilities Resource Centers might be helpful too: 1-877-625-2372.

Have a question?

If you have a medication question you’d like answered, email it to You can also request a pill dispenser, wallet-medication list, or magnifying glass and we’ll mail it to you.

Lana Bell is a state pharmacist with the Alaska Pioneers’ Homes.

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