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Your Take: Do You Buy Generics or Brand Name Medicine?

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AdvilI stumbled onto this NPR story about Matthew Gentzkow, an economist at the University of Chicago’s Booth school, and how he was trying to get to the bottom of why so many people bought brand name medicine.

What I found fascinating was that they looked at an enormous dataset (66 million shopping trips) and found that experts (nurses, doctors, pharmacists) were less likely to buy brands than average people. Pharmacists bought generics 90% of the time. Average people bought them 70% of the time.

They also asked people who bought brand name and it was all image driven. One guy didn’t want his wife to think he was cheap, one said Bayer reminded her of her grandmother, etc.

Personally, we buy generics all the time (OK not all the time, but pretty often). The price difference on some products is absurd. You can go into a Costco and buy a package of 365 pills of loratadine (the active ingredient of Claritin) for what seems like pennies. Go check out the price of Claritin in the grocery store, it’ll leave you gobsmacked.

That said, there are few medicines I use on a regular basis. If I’m not taking it all the time, does it really matter that much if I overpay a little? I don’t think so. I know we have both ibuprofen and Advil in our cabinet. So there was one day when we overpaid for ibuprofen… but that’s life.

Do you buy generics or brand name? Any reasons?

(Credit: An Nguyen Photography)

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19 Responses to “Your Take: Do You Buy Generics or Brand Name Medicine?”

  1. daenyll says:

    most generics behave in a close enough manner to the brand that there is no reason not to go with the generic. What you have to look out for is the difference in the release profile and fillers when comparing generic to name brand. In some instances there may be enough of a difference in how and when the drug is released when it enters the body that a brand name will be more effective for the patient than a generic. I prefer generic whenever available.

    • elloo says:

      Yes, you are right about the difference in the delivery systems. The generics have a bare bones one that can leave your body too quickly or too slowly. Also, generics only have to be 80% bioequivalent. In other words, they are not exactly the same chemical makeup as the branded drugs (80%). Everyone is unique and responds differently. You just have to try a generic and see how it works for you. I do like the price of the generics, but for crucial meds–I always buy branded even if it means a higher cost on my end.

  2. cubiclegeoff says:

    I usually go generic, with the exception of Claritin. I’ve found the brand name works better for me than the generic version from CVS.

  3. Medicines are probably the foremost area where “brand vapor” marketing has been effective. We buy only generics, including for prescriptions when possible. The thing is, these days with the proliferation of counterfeits, even if you think you’re buying the brand name, you may well not be!

  4. Aimee says:

    I buy generics when they work as well and are available in the same form. I buy generic Zyrtec at Sam’s Club, I get my kids generic pain killers, but I like Advil Liquid Gels, and most of the generics don’t have that form, and generic Pepsid Complete doesn’t work as well and tastes gross.

  5. Andy says:

    I know its strange and perhaps overcautious. But for my kids I always prefer to buy the brand name. For myself and the wife, I am much more elastic. If only a few $$ difference, I will buy the brand name. Otherwise generic is fine too.

  6. Texas Wahoo says:

    I buy generic ibuprofen, but brand name Excedrin. Buying generic ibuprofen is easy, because there’s only one active ingredient. It’s a lot more difficult to buy generic Excedrin because I have to check the ingredients and make sure is has the same percentages for each ingredient; plus most stores do not carry it.

    Given that those are the only drugs we use with any regularity at all, it does not come up much for us.

  7. Huskervball says:

    We get our prescription drugs from a government pharmacy because of my husband’s military retirement. The government always substitutes generic. This is fine with me.

    As an aside–some of you folks considering service in the reserve should look at the long term benefits. They are remarkable. I am sorry I ever, ever complained about the hours of service doing drills.

    An example is the prescriptions which are all free.

  8. elloo says:

    As to the data reporting that doctors and nurses buy branded drugs less often–there is a very good reason for this behavior, and it has nothing to do with the fact that they like generics better than branded drugs. Understand that the medical staff has access to the office’s sample closet, which is stocked to the rafters with sample boxes of branded drugs. They simply take what they need. (I know this for a fact. I’m in the biz.) If the branded drug’s patent has expired, there no longer are samples in the closet. So they buy the generics for the same reasons that their patients do (cost, insurance requirements, etc.) This data is attention-grabbing if one doesn’t know the back story.

  9. admiral58 says:

    Generic always. Obviously, insiders are buying generic, so everyone else should

  10. Shirley says:

    We buy generics whenever possible after comparing ingredients, percentages, length of active time and cost overall. One asthma inhaler has us stumped… Advair. The medication has, or will soon have, outlived its patent but the inhaler itself (the plastic case) is patented and that will not see an end. So, no generic ever. It’s very expensive but it works.

  11. Dave says:

    I still find it irritating and ridiculous for an insurance company to not cover a medicine that my doctor prescribed. Or, they consider my medicine non-formulary or not-preferred and charge the highest copay. 1 of my doctors always had brand names; why?–they get it free or highly-discounted from the drug manufacturer.

  12. David says:

    Similarly, how about eyeglasses or sunglasses? Do people buy brand names, and from the brand shops (Lenscrafters, Pearle Vision, Sunglass Hut, Oakley, Ray-Ban, all owned by Luxottica; with license brands with many name brands)>?

  13. skylog says:

    i do not buy much, but when i do, it is generic.

  14. James says:

    Aren’t generics sometimes less reliable? I mean when you buy a name brand you get an implicit quality guarantee, right?

    • elloo says:

      Could be. All the generics manufacturers have to do is pump out a cheap knock off. No studies have to be done, no liability, nothing. It may or may not work.

  15. I always buy generics first. If they don’t work than I may shift to the name brand. With most of this stuff, they are chemically identical, so I don’t understand the appeal with the name brands.

  16. Michael says:

    I used to always buy generic. They are supposed to be regulated and behave almost the same as the brand. However, this year, the Indian generic company Ranbaxy was found to have falsified basically all of their quality reports for the last decade or more. Independent analysis of the drugs they sent to Africa and other third world countries showed many of them to be completely worthless. Most of the drugs checked in the US seemed to be formulated correctly, but some were not. The FDA gave them a $500 million fine and tighter scrutiny, but no one went to jail. I would still trust an American made genereic, but there is no practical way to consistently get those. Most generics in the US are still probably good, but there is a real chance that some are inferior to worthless. Therefore, from now on, I have switched to buying brand name when I can afford it.


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