Most pharmacists will tell you that generic medications are comparable to their brand name counterparts. However, recent studies and editorials have indicated that not everyone feels this is necessarily true. What is the responsibility of a pharmacist in this age of abundant medications to give information to the consumer?
First, it is important that patients are made aware that the active ingredient legally has to be the same in both the generic and the brand name. In addition, the FDA requires that the medications work the same. This is what most pharmacists tell their customers, and it is completely true. Because of these facts, generics are what insurance companies prefer for patients as well. In fact, many insurance companies will only pay for generic medications when they are available. If insurance is the only way the customer will receive medication he needs, it is important that he be told there is very little difference in the chemical composition of the medication.
Something many patients do not know, however, is that generic versions of medication do not have to contain the same time-release formulas or the same binders. Many groups maintain that this can cause the medication to release inappropriately or less effectively. A pharmacist has to maintain up to the minute knowledge of studies that indicate the efficacy of medications and should be knowledgeable of the various brands of generics their pharmacy offers. Some generic medications are made in factories outside of the United States that may not have the close supervision of those stateside. Some medical experts maintain all of these factors make no difference, while others warn the effectiveness of certain medications may be affected.
Should pharmacists give all of this information to their customers? Some believe that indeed they should, as it is the pharmacist’s responsibility to make customers knowledgeable about their medications and options. Others believe that the scientific proof is not overwhelming enough to concern laypeople with at this point and do not want to scare customers into purchasing the prohibitively expensive brand name based on what may amount to little clinical difference in chemical composition. Ultimately, this is a decision each pharmacist must make on his or her own and often on a case-by-case basis.
As a patient, I know from experience that generic medications do not always work as well for me, or others in my family. We have had trouble with generic versions of thyroid medication, birth control, and beta-blockers. This makes me ask many questions when we receive a new prescription, which my pharmacist has always been happy to answer. I am happy with our arrangement and his ability to research new information for me.
As a pharmacist, how will you handle the generic versus brand name medication question? Do you believe generics are equal to brand name versions?