Generic Drugs and Switching Prescriptions: Health Information for Older People

My prescription drug costs are pretty high. A friend said she saves money by taking generics. She says they're just as good. Is she right?

Generic drugs are as effective and safe as the brand-name drugs they’re based on. They have the same active ingredients and must work the same way as their brand-name counterparts to be approved by the FDA. That means they have the same risks and benefits, too.

Three-quarters of the approved drugs on the market are available in a generic form. The FDA estimates that generic drugs cost 20 percent to 70 percent less than their brand-name counterparts. To see what generic drugs the FDA has approved lately, and for general information on generic drugs, visit the FDA’s Office of Generic Drugs.

To find out if there’s a generic drug that would work just as well for you as the brand-name drug, talk to your doctor or pharmacist. Say you want the most effective drug at the best price. Each state has a law allowing pharmacists to substitute generic drugs for many brand-name products as long as your doctor doesn’t specify that the brand-name drug is required. Contact your state’s board of pharmacy to learn more.

Switching Prescriptions

The pharmacist called to say my doctor switched the drug I take for my condition. She says it will save me money, but I’m worried the new drug might not work as well. Can I refuse to switch?

Sometimes, pharmacies and insurance companies get rebates or other incentives when they convince a plan member to switch drugs. But there may be other reasons. If you’re uncomfortable about the switch, ask your pharmacist or physician some questions:

  • Will the new drug work as well for my condition?
  • Are the side effects or risks different?
  • Is the dosage the same?
  • Is there a business connection between the pharmacist and the drug manufacturer?
  • Will the switch save me or my benefit plan money, or cost me more?

If you’re still not satisfied, call your state health agency, your state board of pharmacy, or the FDA. They can help you decide if the change makes sense.

Look up information on specific generic and brand-name drugs on the Drugs and Supplements page at MedlinePlus.gov.

Who Cares About Generic Drugs?

FDA, Office of Generic Drugs
1-888-463-6332

Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs

Your state board of pharmacy

Your state health agency

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