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Generic Medicine Awareness

"When one talks about generic medicines, several myths or misconceptions come to mind."
By: Jose Maria M. Villarama IIGeneric Medicine Awareness

A drug is referred to as “generic” because the patent for the original or innovator drug has already expired, giving other pharmaceutical companies the go signal to manufacture it.  For many countries, including the US, patents usually last for 20 years, although many manufacturers can extend it for another 5 or so years by modifying one or several minor features of the drug, the most common of which is the method of delivery or type of capsule or tablet used.

While the word “generic” means “common” or “universal” and should, therefore, not connote anything negative, its combination with “drug” or “medicine” has left a bad taste in the mouth, especially of consumers. When one talks about generic medicines, several myths or misconceptions come to mind.  Some of them are:

Generic medicines are inferior compared to their branded counterparts or contain less of the active ingredient. In the Philippines, this misconception perhaps circulated following several news reports in the past showing raids of clandestine factories or makeshift laboratories producing tablets that are mainly made of or capsules containing starch.  However, stringent laws and pharmaceutical standards dictate that generic drugs should contain the same amount of active ingredient, should be identical in strength, dosage form, & route of administration, should have the same use or indications, and should be bioequivalent to the innovator drug.

Generic drugs are medicines rejected in developed countries, whether because they did not pass quality standards or have expired, that are being dumped and repacked in developing countries.  While Republic Act 9502 or the “Universally Accessible Cheaper and Quality Medicines Act of 2008,” provides for the parallel importation of medicines in case there is a pressing or urgent need to make quality drugs available en masse, say during an epidemic, this doesn’t mean that substandard drugs will start making their way into Philippine drugstores and hospitals.  

The more expensive the drug, the more effective it is.  This mentality is not only true for medicines but for any product for that matter.  The thinking is that more expensive drugs are more effective because quality raw materials are used to produce it.  But, as mentioned above, generic drugs have the same make up and potency as the branded drug they took off from.

Newer, brand name drugs are more effective than old, generic ones.  This argument is similar to the previous one in that novelty is easily equated to efficacy.  But the fact is, newer drugs have to be extensively “road tested” first for efficacy before actually gaining such a reputation. This means more and more doctors should be dispensing or prescribing it, not because they were swayed by medical representatives to do so, but because they believe in the product and its therapeutic value

Unknown to many, September is “Generics Awareness Month” in the Philippines as mandated by the Generics Act of 1988.  The celebration is held mainly to “promote, require and ensure the production of an adequate supply, distribution, use and acceptance of drugs and medicines identified by their generic name.” While this observance is seemingly for informational or awareness purposes only, the Cheaper Medicines Act of 2008 amended parts of the Generics Act and has now required pharmaceutical companies to produce, distribute, and make widely available generic drugs. That is why these days, it is not surprising to see print and broadcast advertisements by popular drug manufacturers marketing the generic equivalents of branded drugs their company may be known for.   In addition, the new law mandates all government hospital employees as well as its medical practitioners to use generic terminology in all transactions related to the dispensation and administration of medicines.

In observance of the 25th anniversary of the Generics Act in 2013, the Philippine Department of Health released a report saying that 5 to 6 out of 10 Filipinos are now taking generic medicine.  In particular, generic medicine awareness in Greater Manila Area was pegged at 65 percent, with Luzon at 48 percent and the Visayas and Mindano at 53 percent.

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