Saturday 25 November 2017

Generic drugs work just as well - using them will save you money...

(Stock picture)
(Stock picture)

Nina Byrnes

Our GP on the benefits of generic drugs and why getting vaccinated is the best way to avoid the flu.

Q. I have been on the same medicine for several years. I attend the same pharmacy but have noticed that several times in the past year my medicine looks different.

Dr Nina replies: Many patients complain that their tablets don't appear the same month to month. This is due to the fact that pharmacies substitute generic or unbranded drugs on certain prescriptions. If there is a cheaper generic drug available they can dispense this instead. The aim of this policy is to reduce the overall cost of medication both to the consumer and the government but it can lead to confusion due to the changing appearance of the tablets received.

Your medication is not being changed. The pharmacist is simply going with the cheapest available generic. These drugs must meet the same safety and quality standards and have the same effect as a branded drug. They may be a different colour or shape but this does not mean that they act differently. The key active ingredient is the same.

Many people are concerned that generic drugs might not be of the same quality as branded drugs. This isn't true. The reason generic drugs are cheaper is that they cost less to produce than branded drugs. When a drug company brings a new drug onto the market it has invested a lot of time and money in research, production and marketing of this product.

New drugs are granted a patent, which gives the pharmaceutical company exclusive rights to sell the drug while this is in place. As the patent of a particular drug comes to an end, other companies can apply to produce and market a generic version of these drugs.

These companies don't have the same research and start-up costs to produce the drug and therefore they can sell it at a cheaper rate. This saving should be passed onto the consumer resulting in savings all around.

Generic drugs have been around for a long time. Paracetamol is a drug we are all very familiar with. Some well-known brands include Panadol, Paralink, and Calpol. Most people would consider all these brands reliable and effective and wouldn't have any problem switching among them.

Generic antibiotics are also commonly prescribed. The Irish Medicines Board is the regulatory body for the prescription of medicines in Ireland (much like the FDA in the USA). They oversee the licensing of drugs in the Irish market.

Once a drug has been licensed here you can be confident that if a doctor here prescribes it and you buy it in an Irish pharmacy that your generic medicine is as safe and effective as the branded product. It is important to stress that drugs bought over the Internet are not subject to the same licensing regulations.

Generic drugs are a safe equivalent substitute for you and you shouldn't be concerned. If you find it hard to keep track of which tablet is which, ask your pharmacist to prepare a blister pack with dosing pouches. This is a great way to simplify your daily dosing.

If you would prefer to stay on the branded drugs, there are two options available. You can ask the pharmacy to give you the branded one and pay them the difference between branded and generic or you can ask your doctor to write "do not substitute" on the prescription. But remember, branded doesn't mean better.

Q. My doctor has recommended the flu vaccine. I have never had the flu but I have heard stories of those who got it getting sick. I’m generally healthy and just over 65. Do I really need to get vaccinated?

Dr Nina replies: Influenza is a highly contagious virus that attacks the respiratory system and spreads rapidly from person to person. Infections reach a peak during winter months with the peak flu season in the northern hemisphere running from October through April. Flu is estimated to kill from 250,000 to 500,000 people worldwide every year.

Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent infection and is particularly important for those at risk of the complications. These include adults over 65, pregnant women, obese people with a BMI over 40, those with low immunity due to illness or other medicines and therapies, and those of any age with underlying chronic disease such as diabetes, asthma or heart disease.

Children under two are also at risk of complications. The vaccine is very safe, has been used for over 60 years and given to millions of people worldwide. It can be given to those over the age of six months unless they have a history of severe allergy to the vaccine or its constituents.

If you are unwell and have a fever over 38 degrees when your vaccine is due, it can be deferred. Those with egg allergy can receive the vaccine but it should be done by a doctor and may be given in a hospital setting.

 The flu vaccine cannot cause illness. It takes up to two weeks to have full effect and so any illness occurring in this time is not vaccine related. Flu vaccination reduces flu complications by 70 to 90% in healthy people.

In the elderly it reduced the risk of serious illness by 60% and death by 80%. It is also known to be safe at any stage of pregnancy and babies born to mums who were vaccinated are 50% less likely to be hospitalised with flu.

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