This question has been on my mind lately after my son’s neurologist recommended a name-brand medication to treat his seizures instead of the generic version. He wrote the prescription with the words, “NAME BRAND ONLY” on it so that there would be no mistake. His reasoning was that in his experience he witnessed many more break-through seizures among those patients taking the generic anti-epileptic drugs vs. name brands. This was something I did not expect the doctor to say. After all, aren’t we told that generic is just as good as the name brand meds in terms of effectiveness? But when I looked in the literature and particularly epilepsy forums I found that many patients agreed with my son’s doctor’s assessment. So it got me to wondering about antidepressants.
Are antidepressants as effective in the generic form as their brand name counterparts? The answer, it seems, depends upon who you ask.
In 2007 for example, one of our depression writers, Deborah Gray, wrote about how one of the generic versions of Wellbutrin XL, Budeprion XL, did not perform as well as the name brand medication in terms of effectiveness. It may have been cheaper but for many people, taking this generic version discovered that their depression symptoms returned. At this time MSNBC reported that hundreds of complaints were coming into The People’s Pharmacy, a syndicated column about medications. A study by ConsumerLab.com validated consumer complaints, that this new generic version was less effective in treating depression symptoms than the name brand.
One of the problems with this particular generic version of Wellbutrin XL was that the active ingredient was released too early leaving patients more susceptible to undesirable side effects including lowering the threshold for seizure activity. For those patients who felt that the generic version was inferior and less effective, this study validated their concerns.
Typically when one brings up this topic of generic vs. name brand medications there are many people who will state that the generic version has to contain the same active ingredients as the name brand and therefore should be just as effective but cheaper. Others will tell you that the patients and consumers who share their concerns about generic medications are just complainers and are imagining things. Still others are vehement that some generics are not the same as the brand name and are less effective and carry more potential risks for side effects. This clearly is a controversial topic which is not going away any time soon.
One of the other obvious problems in all this is that in most cases the insurance companies are making that switch for you to the cheaper generic version. And in cases where there is no generic version available some insurance companies are finding ways to refuse paying for the brand name drugs outright. Since we were discussing Wellbutrin I called my local pharmacy to see about the price difference in price between generic and brand name. A 90-day prescription of Bupropion HCL XL (the generic version of Wellbutrin XL) would cost me less than $20 with my insurance. However, if wanted the name brand I was told it would cost me $576 out of pocket. So yes there is a huge monetary difference there.