Generics Could Lower Cholesterol, Cost

Two widely-used, brand-name cholesterol-lowering drugs have recently gone generic, and a leading consumer publication says they could be a good way for patients to save money and improve their health at the same time.

Pravachol, whose generic name is pravastatin, and Zocor, whose generic moniker is simvastatin,
offer potentially attractive alternatives to the brand-name statin drug Lipitor, according to the Consumer Reports Web publication Best Buy Drugs.

On The Early Show Friday, Dr. Marvin Lipman, a professor at New York Medical College and the chief medical adviser to Consumer Reports publisher Consumers Union, pointed out to co-anchor Russ Mitchell that if you substitute one statin for another, your dosage may need to change because potency differs from product to product. But, he added, once that change is calculated, the effectiveness is the same from drug to drug in the statin family.

There may be differences among the drugs as to which one the patient will tolerate best, Lipman says. One potential side effect of statins is muscle pain, and certain patients may have more of a chance of side effects with one than another. But, whether the best-tolerated drug is generic or brand-name does not enter into that calculation.

Incidentally, Best Buy Drugs also names Lipitor among its choices for certain patients, along with the older generic drug lovastatin.

The choice between brand names and generics actually applies to a very wide range of drug classes, Lipman observed. In fact, it's rare when generics are not available. One such group of drugs are the ones taken to maintain bone strength and prevent osteoporosis. The original brand name patents still apply for Fosamax, Actonel and Boniva, so there is no opportunity for savings in that area.

There are patients who insist generics don't work as well for them as the brand name drugs they replace. Lipman says that's not true: The formulations are identical.

Another factor he mentions: Your doctor may not want to switch a patient from a brand name to a generic. Major pharmaceutical companies offer incentives to doctors to write brand-name prescriptions, and doctors may find those inducements difficult to resist.

Lipman notes that generic drugs are widely used. More than half of medications are now prescribed generically. And, depending on whether they're insured, and other factors, consumers can save anywhere from 20 percent to 80 percent if they go generic.

If you want generic, and your doctor concurs, Lipman urges you to shop around. Prices for generics can vary widely from pharmacy to pharmacy. Simply going generic doesn't guarantee the best price.

Questions you should ask your doctor include:

  • Is there a direct generic substitute for the medication you have prescribed?
  • If not, is there a generic product in another class of drugs that offers the same benefits as what you prescribed?

    For more on generic drugs, from a branch of the Food and Drug Administration, click here.