Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Yankee Doodling

The pros and cons of generic drugs

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 20 July 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d4584
  1. Douglas Kamerow, chief scientist, RTI International, and associate editor, BMJ
  1. dkamerow{at}

Yes, they save money. But are they good for us?

It is a tough time for Big Pharma. The pipeline of new blockbuster drugs has largely dried up. Many are losing their patent protection, allowing competition from generic versions to emerge. For almost every major disease category—infections, diabetes, hypertension, heart failure, lipid disorders, acid reflux, and more—cheap and effective generic drugs are now available.

Furthermore, the US economy is being bankrupted by healthcare costs. Even though drugs are not even close to the largest part of the healthcare budget—around 10% by most accounts1—switching to generic prescription drugs to save money seems an easy and visible way to help deal with the crisis.

A recent article by Ranit Mishori in the Washington Post extolled the benefits of generics, urging patients and doctors alike to embrace them.2 There is no doubt about the savings. On I can buy 90 generic simvastatin 20 mg tablets for $74 (£46; €53); the same amount of brand name Zocor costs $486. Ninety lisinopril 20 mg tablets are $34, while Prinivil …

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