Generic Drugs have come of age! 

Generic Drugs are making inroads despite the best efforts of the big research-based drug companies to hold them at bay.  They are showing steady growth and capturing an ever growing share of total prescriptions written. 

Lower costs are key but, depending on the drug, cost savings can range from minimal to humongous.  If we thought big pharma made a ton of money on their brand name drugs, take a look at what the big chain store pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens make on generics.


Just What is a Generic Drug?

A generic drug is a bioequivalent of a brand name drug whose patent has expired.  Bioequivalent means that they are supposed to be identical to the original name brand in terms of intended use, dosage, strength, mode of administration, safety and effectiveness. 

As the thinking goes, when patent protection expires for a name brand drug, generics will come to market and compete 
on price. 

In theory, the generic offers us the same drug at vastly lower prices.  We have all seen the ads from the chain store pharmacies exhorting the public to go generic and save.

The Generic Challenge: Understanding Patents, FDA and Pharmaceutical Life-Cycle Management (Fourth Edition)

"The Generic Challenge" shown at the left is available from Amazon.com by clicking on the link above. 

It probably contains more information than anyone would ever want to know about the workings of the prescription drug industry including generic drugs.  It would be a good addition to the library of any health care professional as well as the interested layman.

Comparisons of Retail
Drug Store Savings

How much do generics save us?  A lot of it depends on where you live in the U.S. and where you shop. If you shop for generic drugs at the corner CVS or Walgreen's you will  pay prices lower than the brand name drug; lower but often pretty close. 

By the way, ever notice how there is always a CVS and Walgreen's across the street from each other?

Research compiled in January of 2008 by Dr. Cyril Wolf, a practicing physician and investigator into prescription drug sales, showed some amazing disconnects. 

The key to big generic profits lies in the fact that generics are bought from the manufacturer at a small fraction of the name brand cost but marked up by the retailer according to what the market will bear.

Nice Lady Pharmacist

Dr. Wolf looked at a sampling of the most widely prescribed generics and did regional comparisons between the sale prices at Costco, CVS and Walgreen's.  He chose Costco as the baseline since they tend not to mark up their drugs excessively.

Photo:  Hi, my name is Lisa.  I'll be your server today.  Would you like fries with you Lipitor?

Anyone being treated for diabetes will recognize Metformin.  The 500mg dose sold for $14.08 at Costco but in Los Angeles, sold for $27.99 at CVS and $62.89 at Walgreen's.  In Houston it sold for $64.59 at CVS and $56.89 at Walgreen's. 

Metformin was first approved by the FDA for sale in the U.S. in 1994 and Bristol-Myers Squibb brought the first branded formulation to market in 1995 under the name Glucophage.  There are now numerous generics available under various names.

It's unlikely that many people will recognize Augmentin unless they have had a bacterial infection like pneumonia, urinary tract infection, sinusitis or bronchitis. 

It is a penicillin antibiotic more recognizable as amoxicillin.
It sells for $31.10 at Costco and in LA for a whopping $75.59 at CVS and $89.99 at Walgreen's.  On the other coast, it sells for $84.99 at Walgreen's in New York.

Anyone diagnosed with depression or panic attacks will have heard about Prozac, first brought to us by Eli Lilly.  When their patent expired in 2001, numerous generics came to market.  They sell for $10.96 at Costco but go for $43.99 and $49.89 in Houston at CVS and Walgreen's respectively.

Let's do one more.  Got high cholesterol?  Chances are you will know about Zocor, a statin drug (simvastatin) used to control high cholesterol, brought to us by Merck.  The generic goes for $11.66 at Costco. 

If you’re standing up, better sit down.  In LA generic Zocor sells for $180.99 and $194.19 at CVS and Walgreen's.  It's worse in New York where Walgreen's gets $221.89 for a generic Zocor prescription.

What the Generic Drug
Trade Association Says

There is a Generic Pharmaceutical Association that keeps track of growth rates of generic drugs. 

From their figures, generics are enjoying a phenomenal growth rate.

They report that sales of generic drugs grew by 22 percent in 2003, accounting for 51 percent of all prescriptions filled.   The volume of generic prescriptions grew by 9.2 percent.

Name Your Poison

By 2007, generics accounted for 69% of all prescriptions filled. 

In dollars, that translated to $58.5 billion compared to $228 billion in brand name prescriptions.

Photo:  If they didn't look so inviting, maybe no one would take them.

To see firsthand what the association has to say about generic drugs and keep up with the latest news on the subject, you can visit the GPhA website. It is well done and seems to be kept current.

To put the four examples cited above in perspective, the Generic Pharmaceutical Association puts the average nationwide price of a generic prescription at $34.34 compared to an average price of $119.51 for the brand name drugs.

Where do generic drugs go from here?  Who knows?

According to a July 17, 2009 article in the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. senate has given generic drugs a tough road. 

In July 2009, a senate committee "voted as part of its [Obama] health bill to give branded biotechnology drugs, including cancer medications that cost thousands of dollars a year, at least 12 years of market exclusivity, a significant defeat for makers of cheaper generic drugs.

The "Drugs for Less" book shown at the right could give us all a fighting chance at beating the high and going higher cost of prescription drugs.  It is available from Amazon.com by clicking the embedded link below.

Drugs For Less: The Complete Guide to Free and Discounted Prescription Drugs

This is the best year the [branded] drug industry has had in decades, said Nancy LeaMond of AARP and the seniors lobby which is seeking greater price cutting on drugs.

For the grand finale, we examine how to get off prescription drugs or never get on them in the first place.

It can be done and to read how, just click on Kicking the Prescription Drug Addiction.


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