Are generic drugs as effective or should one opt for pricier, known branded generic drugs?

Published On : 2017-03-14

A generic drug is a copy of a branded drug that has exactly the same amount of dosage, use-case, effects and side effects, the method of administration, safety, and risks of the original drug. In simple terms, generic drugs are virtually identical to their brand-name counterparts. Medication, particularly for diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular ailments, and gastrointestinal issues can be a very costly proposition. Owing to the cost factor, millions of people have begun to rely on generic drugs as they are much more affordable than branded generic drugs. A diabetic patient might take metformin, instead of Glucophage while others might prefer glipizide that is a generic sulfonylurea drug, instead of Glucotrol that is its brand-name equivalent. A key way of differentiating branded generic drugs from generic drugs is that the former usually capitalise their name, while the latter do not. Naming conventions aside, patients would certainly wish to know if there are differences between the two that are worth considering beyond the advertising aspect.

According to American Federal Law, generic drugs need to be chemically identical to the FDA-approved branded generic drugs. Thus, they should logically have the same effects and side effects on our body. While they do, for the most part, some researchers believe that there are significant differences between branded drugs and their generic counterparts. The key differentiator could be in the active ingredients versus the inactive ones. The active ingredients in the two drug types could be identical, but the inactive ingredients could make a world of difference. Inactive ingredients typically comprise preservatives, binding materials, (which might be excipients), floating agents and dyers. Excipients are fillers and bulking agents that give medical pills their particular size. These do not sound like they could impact the generic drugs much; however, they can particularly trouble people with allergies. A person might develop a strong allergic reaction to a preservative or dye present in the generic drug. Inactive ingredients can also be a fairly misleading name, as the ingredients might not remain permanently ‘inactive’. Excipients can even strengthen or weaken a particular drug’s effects or side effects on certain occasions. They may facilitate drug solubility or absorption and could dramatically speed up or slow down the drug passing through an individual’s system.

Excipients are not the only factors that distinguish branded drugs from generic ones. Alcohol is frequently used in drugs for a variety of reasons. Even it can become an active or inactive ingredient depending upon the specific way the medication is formulated. These differences are mainly because of the way the drug is manufactured. While a drug patent reveals all the components of a specific drug, it does not explain how that drug is manufactured. Generic drugs are frequently reverse-engineered resulting in an approximation that is very close to, but not the perfect equivalent of the branded drug. All these differences might lead the generic drug to enter the blood slower or faster; not last as long or even last longer. This could have a massive impact on diabetics who use generic drugs to reduce their blood glucose levels for example. It could also affect time-release medication by varying the time of release substantially.

With all these differences, one might wonder if it is better to stick only to branded generic drugs. Unfortunately, there is no right answer when it comes to branded generic drugs versus generic drugs. Some individuals might find the price differential between the two much too hard to ignore, especially those with a limited disposable income or lack of insurance cover. On the other hand, if these drugs are not as safe or effective as their branded equivalents, are they really worth the risk they may pose? While generic drugs have improved a great deal over the past few years, they still have some way to go before they can become a virtual doppelganger of branded generic drugs.