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Pros and cons of generic medicines – All you need to know

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The World Health Organization reported in its bulletin of 2017 that each year around 100 million people are pushed to poverty due to the global “catastrophic health expenditure”. In low-income countries, almost 90% of the population face financial difficulties directly due to healthcare payments. To spread awareness about this grim situation, WHO has declared the theme of this World Health Day on April 7, 2019, as ‘Health for All’ and called out its member countries to participate in and promote its UHC campaign. The target is singular – to reduce the rising health cost without any compromise on quality.

Generic medicines fall exactly on these lines. Almost 80% of all the pharmaceutical needs of the US are met by generic medicines, yet people remain unaware of the benefits these alternatives can provide. The cons of the industry tend to spread faster than the pros and the skepticism that exists among people rarely get addressed. So, let me tackle the situation here and discuss both sides of the generic medicine’s story. With all the information at hand, I will then humbly leave the ultimate decision on you. As always, the pros the first.

The pros of generic medicines:

While the list can truly be endless, the three outright ones include:

  1. Lower cost than the branded versions: Generic drugs cost almost 85% less than their branded counterparts. When a drug company loses its patent to be the sole manufacturer ofa specific medicine, different market players gain the authority to replicate that drug and sell. The increased competition naturally brings down the overall costs. Plus, generic manufacturers are not obligated to carry out any up-front clinical test to prove effectivity. This also reduces the price to a large extent.
  1. Safety is similar to branded versions: The FDA body of the country allows only 4% variation in generic drugs from the branded medicine that it is replicating. When translated to medical terms, this keeps the bioequivalence of the generic medicine exactly the same. Hence, the impact is the same, the clinical benefit is the same and even healing is the same. All generic drugs pass through the same safety inspections as the branded versions and therefore safety is rarely an issue.
  1. Solves insurance coverage dilemmas: Most health insurances covering medicines in their plans cater only to a specific formulary, or a list of brands whose medicines they will pay for. Any drug outside that list or formulary will have to go from your pocket and you seldom get the insurance benefit that you actually deserve. In such a scenario, generic medicines can come to your rescue in reducing the overall health cost or even lower the co-pay structures if generic medicines are covered.

The cons of generic medicines

There are indeed no direct cons of generic medicines. However, here are three just to be fair:

  1. Not all medicines can have generic alternatives: This comes from the fact that there are still brands who hold the patent to produce and market the specific drugs. But the situation is very rare and one generic medicine can be used for multiple application.
  2. Unregulated manufacturers plague the industry: As there is no law after patent expiration to stop the mimicking of the branded drug, many small and unregulated manufacturers also release poor-quality generic drugs. Hence, it is always advisable to consult with your doctor and buy from top pharmacies.
  3. Testing center data show doubtful results: Many clinical testing centers of India have a poor historical record about their test results. This prevents medical practitioners to fully trust generic drugs. Again, proper stores will have authentic generic drug brands that are sure to meet the quality requirements.

Finally, the choice is on you

Ask your doctor for generic alternatives. Verify the composition with the branded versions. In this age of information, there is really no excuse for staying ignorant. Identify that the pros of generic drugs do outweigh its cons and make the shift to the much-required affordable alternative.

(Writer is Sujit Paul, Managing Director, Satayhappi Pharmacy. Views expressed are a personal opinion.)

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