prescription-drugsThe decision to go brand name over generic when choosing prescription drugs is usually far from scientific.  In fact, it tends to boil down to the simple question:  “Eighty dollars or ten?”

Because while the subject matter is entirely scientific, we’ve been conditioned to believe that the difference is so minimal that the price supersedes potential risk.  Our doctors support the trade-off and from what we can tell, there’s no difference!  So when the question over $80 or $10 arises, we chose $10.  We are happy about our savings and leave Walgreens with a smile..  an hour later, however, we’re left wondering if we made the right choice…

The debate over whether brand name drugs are better than generic is one that is frequently discussed among healthcare professionals, and the conclusion seems to be… sometimes?   Which leaves us with an alternative question, “When is sometimes?”  In what situation does an extra $70 bucks spare us another trip to the hospital?

In order to come up with the answer, I researched the debate online everywhere from NYT, “Not All The Drugs Are The Same,” to, “Brand Name versus Generic Medications,” and what I found was fairly consistent – the question of whether brand name drugs are superior was dependent on the problem, patient and situation.

For example, in multiple studies around the treatment for epilepsy, neurologists found that patients who switched from a brand-name product to a generic one had more seizures or higher hospitalization rates.

The New York Times quotes Kimford Meador, a professor of neurology at Emory University:

“For many drugs, generics are just fine.  But when you’re taking a seizure medication, the therapeutic window is narrow.  If the absorption of the drug is slightly different between brand and generic or between generics, then the patient could have a seizure, and that seizure could lead to serious injury or perhaps even death.”

You heard her – death – an important “sometimes” to distinuish, I’d say.  On the other hand, some specialists feel differently.  According to Medical author, Melissa Stoppler, M.D, there is no cause for concern:

“…There’s no truth in the myths that generic drugs are manufactured in poorer-quality facilities or are inferior in quality to brand-name drugs. The FDA applies the same standards for all drug manufacturing facilities, and many companies manufacture both brand-name and generic drugs. In fact, the FDA estimates that 50% of generic drug production is by brand-name companies.”

So what can we conclude in this debate between brand name vs. generic?  Small problems caused by differences between brand name drugs and their generic counterparts are not common, but exist. “Problems caused by switching from brand medications to generic drugs or one generic drug to another generic drug comprise, at the very most, 1-2% of the adverse reactions / negative experiences / “side effects…” concludes.  So if you’re not concerned, go generic.  If you are, research the particular drug to ease your worries.  At the end of the day,  few things in medicine are black and white.  The point is, the decision to go brand name or generic isn’t just a matter of $80 or $10.  Do you agree?