Generic Is The New Basic
Trumpcare/Ryancare making you nauseated? Me too.
A short one this week, as (let’s be real) we gear up to take on more hours at work next week. That’s how we spring-break UIC style. This means I write about something I’m fascinated by, and don’t need to research, as I usually would. My main game is healthcare, so my odd interest this week is drug policy, e.g. the laws that govern our prescription drugs.
Ready for that nausea to lurch to full-on heaving? Let’s get to it.
-A drug patent in the US lasts ten years. The company of origin has a decade to market the absolute hell out of it before the recipe (ingredients AND quantity) are released. This is how generic drugs exist, usually comprised entirely of the active ingredient of the “designer drug.” For example, Tylenol’s active ingredient is acetaminophen. You can buy Tylenol for 15$ a bottle, or get much larger bottle of just acetaminophen for about 6$ at Jewel or CVS. Benadryl’s active ingredient is diphenhydramine. It’s a mouthful, but you can just buy a generic “allergy relief” box of pills for $4, with the only ingredient being diphenhydramine–it’ll serve the exact same purpose with the same quality. Read your labels!
-“I did read the labels! And the drug I saw on TV has more ingredients, not just the active ingredient! That makes it better than its generic version!” This accusation is half-right. Brands put more things in their pills, but these ingredients are usually inactive. It’s essentially to make people believe that their drug is more comprehensive.
-“Then why do branded drugs cost so much more?” Because they can. And because they spend billions of dollars on marketing. The US and New Zealand are the only developed countries that allow direct-to-consumer marketing by pharmaceutical companies. Those wacky ads featuring 60-year-old white couples fishing and going to a ball game? They’re illegal practically everywhere else, because they divert pharmaceutic money away from research and development, and the ads are often misleading. Just think of the super-fast disclaimer at the end.
But back to the “because they can” part. Ahem. IT IS ILLEGAL IN THE US FOR THE GOVERNMENT TO EVEN TRY TO NEGOTIATE DRUG PRICES WITH PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANIES. Not difficult; not uncommon; illegal. That’s why epi-pen prices were allowed to rocket to hundreds of dollars a year ago. Because the CEOs had no opposition. And big surprise! People with life-threatening allergies need eip-pens to live, so they’ll pay whatever the cost.
-“OH GOD, why can’t we stop this?” Because designer drug brands make lots of money this way. The more money they make, the more powerful their lobby is in DC. I’m sure you’ve heard of “Big Pharma.” They’ve got more lobbyists, more cash, and more power than the National Rifle Association. It took one meeting with Big Pharma lobbyists to turn Donald Trump’s view from “hey people should be able to afford their drugs” to “more money for Pharma means more innovation and more jobs or something.”
Oh man, here I said that’d be short, and yet here we are. Next time you’re in CVS looking for allergy meds, headache relief, or researching a new birth control pill, look at the ingredients. Then find the generic that boasts the brand-name’s active ingredient on its box. If you’re curious about all the other ingredients, you’ve got a smart phone. Look ’em up! If the generic’s package says “Compare with [Brand Name Drug]” that means it’s identical, except the pills might be a different shade of blue, or come in a bottle rather than a box.
The only difference is marketing. Be an educated consumer. The only way these kind of lobbyists will back off is if we stop feeding them.
Have a Scien-tastic Day!