As we cope with the economic recession, we've all had to make concessions. It's been "good-bye" to European vacations, organic milk and magazine subscriptions. But there are those things we can't give up without risking serious illness or death, one of which is prescription medication.
In 2004 the U.S. Centers for Disease Controlestimated that at least 47 percent of Americans had a prescription filled each month. Besides ordering brand-name pills, powders and sprays from Canada, some people are trying to cut costs by turning to generic medications. But don't worry: unlike switching from a real Louis Vuitton purse to a knockoff bought in Chinatown, this isn't a switch that will leave you aching for the real thing in a few months time.
"In theory, generics are every bit as high quality as brand name," says William Hubbard, a former associate commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration(FDA). "I would readily take a generic if it was prescribed to me."
A generic drug contains the same active ingredient, which provides therapeutic benefit, as does the brand-name version. But having the same medicinal component does not mean the two pharmaceuticals are identical. They may contain different inactive ingredients, including those for pill coatings and color or to bind the constituents into tablet form. They also may vary in bioequivalency, which is the amount of drug that is available in the bloodstream at any point in time. In fact, a 2009 FDA study showed that of 2,070 orally administered generic drug products approved by the agency between 1996 to 2007, generics differ in bioequivalency from brand names, on average, by about 3.5 percent; less than two percent varied by more than 10 percent. For many, these differences are not significant enough to reduce therapeutic benefits or, on the other hand, cause toxicity.
"For the vast majority of patients, switching is not an issue," says Aaron Kesselheim, a physician and drug policy researcher at Harvard's...