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Myths and Facts about Generic Drugs

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Generic drugs are a topic of conversation that can be controversial.  Some people tout generic drugs as a safe, economical alternative to brand name drugs, while others complain that they're lower quality, less effective, or dangerous.  The truth is that there are cases where generic drugs are preferable and cases where brand-name drugs are preferable.  Discussing myths and facts about generic drugs can help you make your own decision on a case by case basis. 

The first bit of knowledge that's necessary in separating myths and facts about generic drugs is to know that generic drugs and brand name drugs feature the same active chemicals but are manufactured under different circumstances and sometimes in different forms.  For example, if you're taking Paxil, Paxil is the brand name drug for the chemical paroxetine.  Paxil is manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, who developed the medication, but other manufacturers now provide paroxetine in generic form.   

Testing of pharmaceuticals is one of the main areas of contention when discussing myths and facts about generic drugs.  The original manufacturer (GlaxoSmithKline in our example) undergoes scores of tests on the chemical before the FDA approves its release to the public.  Because they are first to develop the medication and get the patent, they're allowed to market it exclusively for several years. However, when this exclusivity expires, other manufacturers are allowed to sell the same product under the generic chemical name. Some people believe that this means generic drugs are less tested than brand-name drugs.  What it really means is that the FDA doesn't require the safety of the drug to be proven over and over again.  The original manufacturer proves the safety, but the generic manufacturers are also tested to make sure their ingredients, processes and facilities meet the same standards. 

The main area where generic drugs differ from brand name drugs is in physical form, however.  One reason people get myths and facts about generic drugs mixed up is that in some cases this is an important issue and in others it's not.  To use our example again, GlaxoSmithKline manufactures 10 mg dosages of Paxil in a small tablet form.  A generic manufacturer may put the same drug in a large pill form.  Other medications come coated in the brand name form and uncoated in the generic form.  Most of these decisions are made due to cost factors, and the generic form is almost always cheaper.  To the average person the form of the pill may not matter, but if you have difficulty swallowing pills, the brand name smaller pill or coated pill may be highly preferable for you.   

Another major area of discussion that includes myths and facts about generic drugs is who is actually manufacturing them.  You may be surprised but reassured to find out that around 80% of generic drugs are made by the same big-name companies that make brand name drugs.  It's extremely unlikely that your generic drugs were manufactured in substandard facilities, so that's one myth you don't need to worry about. 

Are Generic Drugs As Safe And Effective As Brand Name Drugs? 

Are generic drugs as safe and effective as brand name drugs?  In most cases, the answer to that question is yes.  This question has come about due to some myths about generic drugs that need to be cleared up. 

Some people ask the question, "Are generic drugs as safe and effective as brand name drugs?" because they think generic drugs don't need to be tested as much as the brand name ones.  In truth, the brand name manufacturers go through a rigorous testing process to prove the safety of the drug.  By the time generic versions are manufactured, the safety of the medication has already been proven, but the FDA still wants to ensure that manufacturing facilities and ingredients are up to standard, so they test these aspects of the generic drugs instead. 

Another reason for the question "Are generic drugs as safe and effective as brand name drugs?" is the mistaken belief that generic drugs are manufactured by small, substandard laboratories.  Although the FDA testing would do away with the substandard part anyway, you may be reassured to know that 80% of generic drugs are manufactured by the big name drug companies.  In almost all cases you're getting a product from a company that does the brand name drugs as well.   

Yet another cause of the question "Are generic drugs as safe and effective as brand name drugs?" is the question of whether they're bioequivalent or not.  Bioequivalence means the amount of time it takes the drug to get into your bloodstream is identical.  There are a lot of myths about generic drugs not being tested for bioequivalence, but the truth is that in most cases they are.  There are some cases where this factor can vary, though, especially in issues of timed release vs. direct release.  If this issue concerns you, it's best to discuss it with your doctor and find out if he or she thinks you need a prescription that specifies brand name drug only. 

A final cause of the question "Are generic drugs as safe and effective as brand name drugs?" is the fact that pharmacies often switch between generic drug versions at different times depending on which are cheaper and more readily available.  If you consistently take the brand name drug version, it may be easier to remember what the medication looks like.  However, if you are prescribed the generic version, one month your medication might be a large round white pill and the next month it might be a small pink tablet.  This can get confusing and cause accidents like taking the wrong dose of medicine or taking the wrong medicine, especially in the elderly or people who need to take a variety of medications due to complex health problems.  This issue has nothing to do with the inherent safety or efficacy of the generic medications, but it can cause problems so if it's a concern for you, discuss it with your pharmacist or ask your doctor to prescribe brand name medication only.

By Nehal Abidi Medical student
All rights reserved. Any reproducing of this article must have the author name and all the links intact.

Author: Medical student

Biography: Associated content provider with Genericpills4Less.com writing on Men's Issues like ED, Weight Loss, Smoking Control and LifeStyle

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