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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Generics Vs. Brand Names

Stefanie asked this question, and I'm surprised that I've not addressed this over the years.  

What is your take on generic meds for pets?  For instance - I just learned that Heartguard Plus has a generic version called "Tri-Heart Plus" or "Iverheart Plus". 

The savings is significant, but are these as effective for pets as the name brand? 

In general I'm very comfortable with generics, and use them quite a bit.  I know that there are some debates and controversies over quality control in some of these medications, but everything I've seen is for the most part safe and effective.

Let's talk a bit about how generics come about.  When a new medication/drug is first developed and produced, there is a patent on it.  I don't have any problems with these patents because developing things like this is a huge financial investment for the company and they need to be able to recoup the costs or they won't have a reason to develop new drugs.  Currently in the US the original company has a 12 year patent before generics can be developed.  Once the patent expires, other companies can manufacture the same product under different names.  The brand name of the product falls under copyright laws, which have a much longer duration, but the generics can market under new brand names or under the official chemical name.  So really these are the same basic products but with different names. 

The manufacturer of a generic medication has no research costs, so they can go straight into development, keeping the price down.  Many brand names also do extensive marketing, which costs money that must be passed along to the final consumer's price.  So Heartgard has ads and commercials in the public eye, granting brand recognition but costing more money.  Iverheart Plus advertises mainly in veterinary journals and didn't have any of the development costs, so the final price is lower.

The Food and Drug Administration in the US still governs generic medications, and these medications must still meet all of the safety and efficacy standards as the brand names.  For the most part the generics are essentially the same as the brand names, and we use them extensively.  As examples, my practice carries levothyroxine rather than the brand Soloxine, enalapril rather than Enacard, carprofen rather than Rimadyl, and so on.  And we carry one of the non-Heartgard brands or prevention.  Sometimes there are minor differences such as Rimadyl being a chewable flavored tablet and carprofen just a regular pill, or the taste and consistency of the heartworm pills. But as far as doing the right job, I'm comfortable with the generics.  I even use them in my human family (acetaminophen rather than Tylenol, loratadine rather than Claritin, and so on).

Here's some trivia for you.  Did you know that aspirin used to be a brand name by Bayer for acetylesalicilic acid?  Since Bayer originated in Germany, as part of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 aspirin lost its trademark in several countries, becoming a generic name.  Bayer still maintains a trademark for Aspirin with a capital "A", but aspirin with a lowercase "a" is generic.

So Stefanie, feel free to use the cheaper generics.  In my opinion they are just as good as the brand names.