Please Explain: Generic Drugs

Friday, May 13, 2011

On today's Please Explain, we'll look into the science behind and history of generic drugs. Just how identical are they to their name-brand counterparts? Could they be part of the solution to America's rising health care costs? Are there certain instances when you shouldn't go for the generic option? Joe Graedon, author of The People's Pharmacy, will answer these questions and more.


Joe Graedon
News, weather, Radiolab, Brian Lehrer and more.
Get the best of WNYC in your inbox, every morning.

Comments [38]

Nancy Meher from Manhattan

I've been taking Lorazepam since 1995. My GP prescribed it because I was having panic attacks. I joined a women's therapy group and when the Head of the department, a physiatrist, found out that a GP prescribed it he said he wasn't qualified. So now the physiatrist writes my scripts. So now he gets the money. Sometimes he'll ask if I want to stop taking it. It's totally up to me. So far I haven't stopped.

Mar. 23 2012 01:43 PM
Nancy Meher from Manhattan

A lot of things annoy me in stores. One thing is when there is one line only and it's really long and there is only one cashier. I yell out we need more cashiers here. It usually works.

And the constant music in every store is obnoxious.

Dec. 12 2011 01:46 PM

Isn't this what President Obama job stimulus about. Put people back to work. Start with getting rid of PCBs in all schools.

Sep. 23 2011 12:33 PM
Nancy Meher from Manhattan

What is the web site where you can input your personal statistics to see if a drug is good for you?

Sep. 20 2011 12:52 PM
Nancy Meher from Manhattan

I grew up in an abusive dysfunctional family. None of what you're saying applied to us.

I'm was the middle child always trying to make peace.

My parents never encouraged me and my two sisters to get along. We fought all the time and not like kittens either.

Sep. 20 2011 12:17 PM

Dana do you have a website? Can't seen to find it on the WNYC website?

What can we do about this "Top Secret America" Is it to big to dismantle?

Sep. 13 2011 12:29 PM
Nancy Meher

Our government should send every legal family in this country a check for a million dollars. We can pay off our mortgages therefore being able to keep our home. We can pay off our credit card debt, and then we would have money to spend and stimulate the economy. This should have been done with the TARP monies. Also force all corporation to bring back manufacturing jobs. I would be willing to pay more for a product if the product was manufactured here for a least a minimum wage.

Sep. 07 2011 10:19 AM
Nancy Meher from Manhattan

All air flights in and out of the US were stopped except for the plane that flew the Bin Laden family out. why them?

Aug. 31 2011 12:24 PM
Nancy Meher from Manhattan

I could understand shutting the trains but not the buses. The city was in a complete lock down. We were treated like children. I'm outraged. We were forced to stay home unless you had a car or could afford to take a taxi. I think they did it so no one could sue the city if they got hurt!

Aug. 29 2011 10:26 AM
Nancy Meher from Manhattan

A couple of days ago I went out dinner. I was gone for about 2 1/2 hours. I have a curtain closing off the view of the bathroom from the living room. I opened the curtain and couldn't believe my eyes, just in that alcove, the walls were covered with winged ants, bit ones, little one, ones with wings, hundreds of them. I shook the curtain, they were falling in my hair, my arms but they weren't trying to get away. I sprayed them with the only thing I had, OFF! it worked but I had literally mop them up. I was told it was an entire colony of flying ants, I don't know where they came from. What a nightmare!

Jul. 29 2011 01:44 PM
Suffers from Generics from Manhattan

Great segment and great comments.

Specific example. I need to take amoxicillin a lot for dental conditions. Used to count on Sandoz. Then they bought Teva or vice versa, and now I can't tolerate it. Found version produced by Dava was good. Now can't find that. Seems the Teva/sandoz product is flooding the market. There IS NO brand name product. What do we do?

Thanks for any insight from any of you more experienced pro's. I'm just an experienced patient.

Jun. 23 2011 08:58 PM
Nancy Meher from Manhattan

I have a diamond and gold jewelry I don't wear anymore, I'd like to sell it. How do I find a reputable buyer? Or should I sell it piece by piece on the internet?

I also have a lot of silver, I think I'll wait till the price goes up on that.

Jun. 14 2011 01:32 PM
Amy from Manhattan

To Pharma rep: Thanks. I'm a semi-insider myself (medical editor), & I'd say the info on which co's. own which others is not too hard to find on web searches--there's usually a press release about acquisitions or mergers. I'm gonna see what info Graedon's website has about this when I have more time.

May. 13 2011 02:44 PM
Amy from Manhattan

To Ruth: I hadn't heard about the brand-name co's. owning manufacturers of generic drugs. But I'm pretty sure it would be illegal for them to actually change the formula to make it ineffective (or for any other purpose). Of course, from what we heard on the segment, this may not be effectively enforced. I wonder if they undercut other co's. that might sell their own generic versions.

May. 13 2011 02:29 PM
Pharma rep from In the field

The best you can do is ask your pharmacist. Sometimes you may get lucky with the drug you take- many Big Pharma companies now own in-house generic companies. So for instance, when Lipitor goes generic this year, you can switch to a generic version manufActured inthe same facility in Ireland that has been producing branded Lipitor for a decade. This is unfortunately information that mainly only insiders or people in the business know (have to know name of generic and branded companies- IE Pfizer owns Greenestone).

May. 13 2011 02:09 PM
Ruth from NYC

To Amy: A friend heard (on public radio!) that some of the "Big Pharma" companies had been buying up the manufacturers of the generics, in which case your argument wouldn't hold... I don't know.

May. 13 2011 02:09 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Another answer for Ruth Klein: the generic drugs are made by the competitors of the brand-name drug's manufacturer, so they'd have no motivation to drive customers to the competition.

May. 13 2011 02:01 PM
Peg from Rockland

Hello see 60 minutes-the pirates have control not the Mfg - our medicine is being made in shanty shacks with sewer water and our high prices are funding the private FBI like teams that are traveling the world trying to keep a lid on it all-.

May. 13 2011 02:00 PM

This discussion is very interesting, however it seems that many of these issues are issues of both generics and brand names have a lot of the issues you're talking about (ie. where product is made, what binders are made of, etc.). In addition, phychological studies have shown that we actually "feel" better when given a more expensive pain pill (even though in the studies they are actually exactly the same pill). The psychological effects of marketing are certainly something to be reckoned with as well.

May. 13 2011 01:58 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I was on hold waiting to ask that same q. about country of origin labeling! If it's not on the label, is there really no other way to find out?

May. 13 2011 01:57 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Drug companies sometimes "tweak" a drug's formulation after the patent runs out so they can patent the new one--& advertise it heavily to consumers as the new, improved version. In some cases it really is an improvement (like a time-release version that needn't be taken as often); is there any reason to suspect that a drug co. ever holds the improved version back until the patent on the previous version runs out?

May. 13 2011 01:55 PM
Nancy Meher

I'm diabetic and use two types of insulin. Insulin is so expensive why isn't there any generic insulin?

May. 13 2011 01:54 PM
Bonnie Weller from Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ

Back in 1983 I found a source for Rubidium Chloride and took it according to medical directions. It worked as nothing else has worked in my life. The trial was over and I could no longer purchase the drug until just this year. However, it doesn't work at all. Could it be because of the content? Could the mixer or whatever it's called stop the pure RbCl from working? It's only available from a compounding pharmacies.

May. 13 2011 01:54 PM

Is it true that a drug co. can extend or renew a patent on a drug if a new use for it is found? (e.g., Prozac for mentrual distress)??

May. 13 2011 01:53 PM
Noname from Brooklyn

It is not true that if no generic is available your insurance company will have to pay. My son takes Suboxone. It has been very effective for him. There is NO generic version available.

He is insured by SUNY insurance. He is on a medication that costs over $600/month (the example you gave was $600 for three months.)

His insurance will not cover this drug AT ALL. Additionally, the company that makes this drug will not allow him to apply for any relief since he is insured (even though it isnot covered)! This is causing great financial hardship. The manufacturer gives a coupon worth $45 to "help" and only 6 times.

I have tried everything I can think of to get some help in paying for this. There is none.

May. 13 2011 01:51 PM

My endo told me that, especially since I must maintain a level of thyroid hormone which suppresses any reaction of remnant thyroid cells, that it is important to use a name brand thyroid replacement.

One of the problems I was told about is that drug stores tend to buy the cheapest generics around, and the patient might do well on one generic but the drug store will fill the prescription with a different generic on the following refills.

Recently I've noticed on other generics that the prescription mentions the supplier of the generic. Is that now required?

May. 13 2011 01:50 PM

Just tuning in...want to make sure the great and fascinating bill haddad s name comes up!

May. 13 2011 01:50 PM
Noname from Brooklyn

It is not true that if no generic is available your insurance company will have to pay. My son takes Suboxone. It has been very effective for him. There is NO generic version available.

He is insured by SUNY insurance. He is on a medication that costs over $600/month (the example you gave was $600 for three months.)

His insurance will not cover this drug AT ALL. Additionally, the company that makes this drug will not allow him to apply for any relief since he is insured (even though it isnot covered)! This is causing great financial hardship. The manufacturer gives a coupon worth $45 to "help" and only 6 times.

I have tried everything I can think of to get some help in paying for this. There is none.

May. 13 2011 01:48 PM
Raphael from Forest Hills

Both Midrin and the generic (epidrin) have been discontinued, with nothing comparable available.
Do you know why this happened? Can anything be done?

May. 13 2011 01:47 PM
Pharma rep from NJ

Pharmacists are actually incentivized to fill generic pills. The dispensing fees paid by insurance companies are higher for generic than branded.
I am a pharma rep and every single doctor I call on have had patients switched to a generic at the pharmacy interaction level. This is a problem when the generic is a different drug than what the doctor prescribed. IE dr prescribes Lipitor and patient ends up on generic simvastatin (a generic version of Zocor, a drug proven inferior to Lipitor in head to head trials). Pharmacists will tell patient that there is a generic alternative to what the doctor prescribed but may not be specific enough so that patient thinks he is getting generic Lipitor, not a generic a a completely different drug.

May. 13 2011 01:44 PM
Bob from Pelham, NY

To jgarbuz from Queens: In New York State, the all pharmacists are required by law to fill prescriptions with the generic version even if the doctor writes the brand name, unless the doctor also initials the "Dispense as Written" box.

May. 13 2011 01:43 PM
Ruth Klein from NYC

I've had terrible experiences with generic Ambien:
months of no sleep. It's my understanding that this may be intentional, to encourage purchase of the name brand, which is now $200 for a month's prescription.
I don't have that kind of $$ ... what can be done?
This is a travesty!

May. 13 2011 01:39 PM

So let me get this straight: most of our drugs are made abroad with questionable quality control, yet I still pay top dollar? Very depressing news.

May. 13 2011 01:38 PM
Kaz from Fairfield, CT

How about Walmart's Levothyroxine, very common and popular generic drug?

May. 13 2011 01:35 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

I suspect that the pharmacists probably prefer selling brand names, which I assume produces more profits per sale than generics. On the other hand, if they can sell a much larger volume of cheaper generics, then they might do just as well, if not better. I suspect that smaller pharmacies probably prefer filling the costlier, and hence more profitable brand name prescriptions. That's just my guess.

May. 13 2011 01:35 PM
Isabel from Nyc

Can you please comment about generic children's acetaminophen that substitutes tydenol?

May. 13 2011 01:33 PM

I take a thyroid supplement, levothyroxine instead of the brand name Synthroid. Any difference? My doctors have told me no.

May. 13 2011 01:32 PM

While the active ingredients might be the same for a name brand and a generic, inactive ingredients can differ with negative consequences. My wife was given a prescription for a pain killer following surgery, but the generic she received was not working, in fact made things worse. It was determined that she was having an allergic reaction to the cheap binders in the generic capsule, and once she was switched to the name brand, the drug worked as it was supposed to.

May. 13 2011 07:47 AM

Leave a Comment

Register for your own account so you can vote on comments, save your favorites, and more. Learn more.
Please stay on topic, be civil, and be brief.
Email addresses are never displayed, but they are required to confirm your comments. Names are displayed with all comments. We reserve the right to edit any comments posted on this site. Please read the Comment Guidelines before posting. By leaving a comment, you agree to New York Public Radio's Privacy Policy and Terms Of Use.