Thursday, October 14, 2010

trade secrets: generic vs brand {part 1 – OTC}

The world of pharmacy sometimes relishes in that few people completely understand what does go on behind the counter. Let me assure you though I want you to know what goes on behind the counter. I believe if you understand then you are better equipped to make better decisions in regards to your health.

So after reviewing all the great questions {keep them coming..I need LOTS if I am going to do this weekly}, I thought it would be best to hit a big concern straight on.

Are generic OTC {over the counter} meds better, the same, or less than Brand meds?

My personal opinion: Generic OTC meds are better because not only are they effective but they are cheaper. Let me state it this way: I take generic OTC meds, my husband takes generic OTC meds, and I give generic OTC meds to my son.

The reality is that over the counter medications must be approved by the FDA, just like the brand names. While there is no physician’s prescription needed to get medications like pain relievers, headache medicine, and cold pills, over the counter medications are still held up to strict guidelines for usage and interaction information as all other medication, OTC or otherwise.

The FDA has been working to get consumers more access to medications and have changed some medications such as Zyrtec and Prilosec from prescription only medications to over the counter brands {and we can get into this even in more detail later}.

Yet I should note, this can actually be a disadvantage to insured consumers who will end up paying more money for over the counter medications than they normally would for a prescription with a co-pay {I see it all the time with children’s allergy medicines. Patients may only have a $5 copay for 120 oz but are forced to pay more for a smaller quantity}. This is a prime example why consumers need to pay more attention than ever to prices and alternatives for buying medications.

So how do you compare? Check out the ingredients.

Next time you go to the pharmacy or health and beauty section of the store, do a comparison yourself. Read the labels and see just how similar the medications are. Most labels have a standard format that manufacturers follow, so comparing labels should not be very difficult. Pay attention to the active ingredients and recommended dosage amounts for comparison purposes.

Here is a good example:

So, how does a generic get approval? To gain FDA approval, a generic drug MUST:
•contain the same active ingredients as the innovator drug {inactive ingredients may vary – this is where constant debate lies, but see below with bioequivalent}
•be identical in strength, dosage form, and route of administration
•have the same use indications
•be bioequivalent {note: study of OTC or Rx, showed the average difference in absorption into the body was only 3.5 percent – and this has a 12 yr clinical study to support it}
•meet the same batch requirements for identity, strength, purity, and quality
•be manufactured under the same strict standards of FDA's good manufacturing practice regulations required for innovator products

Now I know this is a lot of information.

So let me remind you of the famous saying, “Don’t buy groceries when you are hungry.” Well this is great advice for medications too. Be proactive in your health. We all know how miserable it is to walk into a store when you are sick or have a sick child. Then you find yourself trying to read all the information on the boxes, let alone process the information, and then make a purchase.

Doesn't this look intimidating?

Now imagine looking at it and you are sick -- or you have a sick kiddo.

So my advice, stock up BEFORE you get sick. Have your arsenal ready for: headaches, body aches, cold/sinus, allergies, etc. Martha's 1st aid drawer is quaint, but I have a few issues we can touch on later. But the idea is there:

Finally, if you have a difficult time understanding labels, do not hesitate to talk to your {yours is key} pharmacist.

They’ll be able to help you understand what the labels mean and direct you to a less expensive alternative. You should always consult with a pharmacist if you are not sure about using a new medication, especially if you are already taking prescription medications that may react with other drugs.

Feel free to share away with friends and family or not. Either way, it will be our little secret.

e {Have you entered my giveaway?...Go on -- do it. :) }

As for a pleasant sidenote:

I would love to transform the traditional pharmacy

into this pharmacy


  1. I have bought generic otc for years. I imagine I have saved quite a few pennies over the years. I like this series. Keep up the great work.

  2. Good to know! I do buy generic most of the time too. My son was sick recently and I had one name brand fever reducer and one generic. The only thing I didn't like about the generic is that the syringe was separate from the cap so you have to keep track of it, the name brand was one unit. And wouldn't it be nice to go to a pharmacy as pretty as the second one:)

  3. Yes! Yes! Yes! People are sometimes shocked when our answers to "which should I buy?" are "buy the one that costs the least," as if we were trying to kill them from the inside out by saving money! ;o)

    Oh, and I will definitely come work with you in the second pharmacy. :o)

  4. Love this post. I had a nurse friend once tell me the same thing and hearing it from someone who was qualified assured me it would work. I've bought generic since and saved myself lots of $$$ I can use for other things! Thanks for the wealth of information!

  5. Great post! I could have used this advice last week when I got the worst cold I've ever had. I was so overwhelmed trying to pick a medication (it was hard to find one that didn't have extra ingredients that I didn't need--for example, pain reliever--I didn't need it after the third day but I still needed a decongestant and cough suppressant). Now I am stocked and ready although I hope I don't need to use them any time soon!

    I always choose a generic if it's available--I can't bare paying extra money if I don't need to. Which brings me to a question--how long does it take (on average) for a generic to be available. I've had a prescription for an antihistamine eye drop for years (5+) and in that time a generic has not become available. I was using a generic OTC equivalent to Zaditor (for over 2 years) and now it's not available. What gives? Does it take years for the generic approval process or are generic equivalents only made based on demand or potential profit?

    Thanks for opening yourself up to answering these questions!

  6. Such a great post! You are helping people make important health-related decisions and you answered some questions for me. Thank you! I can see how this could be a very popular series.

    Keep up the good work. Now on to making sure I am entered in your wonderful giveaway!

  7. So good to know! Your explanation is so much more concise and patient than what most doctors can provide out there (believe me I know, as I work w/ MD's daily).

    And it would be a joy if my pharmacy looked as chic as that one. I think Nate Berkus should look into that. =]


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