Generic Drugs Work As Well As Brand Names, New Data Suggests, So Why Are You Paying More?

People have strong feelings about brands for everything from foods to cleaning products, so it's no surprise that they care about which brand of medication they receive. But new data shows that generic drugs work as well as the brand names, and patients are happier with them — so if you have strong brand preferences, you might want to reconsider.

In a partnership with public-interest group ProPublica, drug info site Iodine has added features to compile patient review information and make it easily viewable to visitors. As reported in Pacific Standard, one result of this data reorganization project is that it reveals a higher level of patient satisfaction with generics in at least three categories (antipsychotics, antidepressants, and cholesterol drugs).

The Iodine reviewers are asked "if a drug is worth it, whether it’s a hassle to take, and if it works well." Generics probably win on this basis, because they work as well as brand name drugs, patients have reasonable expectations about them (as opposed to their heavily-marketed brand name equivalents), and because the generics cost significantly less.

The interesting thing about this data is that it's not from a double-blind study — the drug takers knew whether they were receiving a generic or a name brand drug. That means that if there were a positive placebo effect at work for the brand name drugs (or a kind of negative/reverse placebo effect for the generics), it would have affected the overall scores.

Iodine's data wasn't super scientifically collected, then, but it is one data point to add to the pile suggesting that generic drugs work just as well. There may have been some mistakes in generic drug formulations in the past, and of course our understanding of biochemistry is always evolving. But FDA regulations regarding generics are very tight, and mean that you are overwhelmingly likely to have the same experience with a generic drug as you would with the brand name counterpart.

It's one thing if you want to spend more of your own personal money than you need to on brand-name drugs instead of generics, but as more and more health expenses become regulated and made into a public matter, your drug choices become the public's business too. There's no doubt that generic drugs save money. As insurance companies struggle to pay for Affordable Care Act-related expenses, it's likely that they will pull coverage for brand-name medications to the fullest extent possible. But, since generics are basically as good anyway, this is no particular cause for concern.

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