PETALING JAYA (May 27, 2012): Your visit to the doctor can cost significantly less if you opt for cheaper generic prescription drugs.
Generic drugs are equivalent to brand name (also known as innovator) drugs in terms of dosage, quality, efficacy and performance, at up to 70% cheaper than the innovator drug.
Generics are produced when patents on the innovator drug has expired, and as such, will cost much less as they do not include the cost of research, advertising or marketing.
It was estimated in a 2009 survey by Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) School of Pharmaceutical Sciences that the use of generic drugs can help patients who do not go to government hospitals to save between 60% and 90% on their bills.
Towards increasing the awareness of the cheaper alternatives, the Health Ministry plans to hold nationwide roadshows from August to educate the industry and the public on generic medication.
The roadshows will be co-ordinated by the ministry's Pharmacy Division, in collaboration with the Malaysian Organisation of Pharmaceutical Industries (Mopi) and the National Pharmaceutical Control Bureau.
Health Ministry Pharmaceutical Services Division senior director Datuk Eisah Abdul Rahman toldtheSun the roadshows will also provide information on generic equivalents to brand-name drugs in the market.
Meanwhile, Mopi president Leonard Ariff Shatar told theSun that local manufacturers have to adhere to strict international standards when producing generics.
Health Ministry statistics state that about 40% of generic drugs in the market are locally manufactured.
"Malaysia is one of two Asean countries (the other is Singapore) who are members of the European Pharmaceutical Inspection Co-operation Scheme," he said. The local Drug Control Authority has also implemented compulsory bio-equivalence studies for manufacturers of generic drugs.
"Before being registered, manufacturers have to prove that the generic has the same efficacy, delivery and quality as the innovator drug," he said.
However, despite the lower price tag, he said the value of generic drugs account for only 40% of the RM3.2 billion pharmaceuticals market while 60% goes to innovator drugs.
"The opposite, however, is true in terms of volume – generics make up 60%, while innovators make up only 40%," said Leonard, who explained that this is because innovator drugs often hold patents for up to 20 years.
"So for 20 years, all the doctors and laymen hear about is a particular brand. When the patent finally expires, many doctors find it easier to continue prescribing the innovator drug, as opposed to prescribing the generic," said Leonard, adding that it all boils down to education.
"Government hospitals have in a way been at the forefront of education because its doctors prescribe generics whenever they are available, partly due to cost factors as well," he said.
Leonard feels pharmacists and doctors should share the responsibility to inform patients about generic options.
"It is all about ensuring patients can make informed decisions about their medication," he said, cautioning however that counterfeits are not to be mistaken for generics.
Counterfeit drugs are sub-standard copies of registered innovator drugs and often pose health risks.
"There is a big problem of counterfeit drugs passing off as generics. One way to tell them apart is that there is a 4mm by 6mm holographic sticker with a serialized code on the packaging of the generic, registered drug," he said.
He said people should also get their medication from only reputable sources, and strongly warned against buying prescription medication from the internet. Hospital Kuala Lumpur Head of Medicine Datuk Dr Jeyaindran Sinnadurai told theSun that generic drugs are subject to continuous batch testing as well as efficacy monitoring to ensure they are safe for public consumption.
"If a pattern is observed – let's say a drug for high-blood pressure does not work as it should – the ministry will investigate immediately, and if need be, pull the product from the market," he said.
Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society president Datuk Nancy Ho said while there is no directive from the ministry to compel pharmacists to inform customers about generics, most of the 1,200 pharmacies in the country are already doing so.
"It is the pharmacists' duty to give their patients the full picture on the medication available. In fact, we are working towards making this a standard operating procedure, because it is the right of the patient to know," she added.