A new Fortune article “Are Generics Really the Same as Branded Drugs?” (1/14/13) sets a dangerous tone for something that has become a standard across the pharmaceutical industry. This is either:
(a) giving consumer credibility to a long-standing rumor with a case study or
(b) a dangerous perspective which will only further activate the conspiracy theory consumers and clinicians.
Let’s start with a few basics from the Generic Pharmaceutical Association:
- There are over 4B prescriptions filled in the US per year.
- Of those, over 80% are generic medications.
- Generic medications saved over $190B last year.
For facts on generics, I would point you to the FDA website. I posted some of their slides years ago on SlideShare which I put below along with their latest infographic.
The article in Fortune focuses on a case regarding an anti-depressant called Wellbutrin and its generic counterpart. The article goes on to point out that the active ingredients in the generic (compared to the brand) can vary from 80% to 125%. (I think a good more detailed explanation of this is available here).
But, the author goes on to point out the risks associated with the fillers (or inactive ingredients) and talks about the issue of NTI (Narrow Therapeutic Index) drugs that no one substitutes for anyways.
One big thing that I was always taught was to understand that the difference in active ingredients between brands and generics was similar to the differences in different lots of the same brand drug. And, given the fact that traditionally, 50% of generic drugs were made by the brand manufacturers, it would seem difficult to believe that they were simply throwing caution to the wind by producing substandard product.
I would hope that Express Scripts, CVS Caremark, Walgreens, PCMA, and many other groups will come out strongly to address this article. This is the type of article that could be a significant setback to the generic industry which has proven itself under lots of scrutiny over the years to save money and have very few negative impacts with the FDA’s scrutiny.