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Chicago residents prefer generic drugs but stand by the right to choose

by Carly Helfand
Jan 18, 2012


Carly Helfand/MEDILL

The generics market is poised for growth with a new funding proposal passing through Congress.

Generic drugs are playing a bigger role in U.S. healthcare than ever before. Lipitor, the most widely prescribed name-brand drug in the country, became available as a generic in late November, and with new legislation moving through Congress, many other drugs may soon be following suit. But for some U.S. consumers, an increase in generics’ popularity has meant a decrease in options. Some insurers have switched patients to generic versions of their prescriptions without their consent.

Chicago area residents and visitors interviewed Wednesday largely expressed a preference for buying generic drugs over name-brand pharmaceuticals. An informal survey in the Loop found that 14 of 16 people trust generic medicines fully and buy them whenever possible to save money. Several of those interviewed, however, said the choice to use generics or name-brands should be up to the individual rather than insurance companies.

“I usually get generic brands,” said Bucktown resident Veronica Roman, 29. “It’s cheaper, it saves you the money. But I really do think it should be the person’s preference. You’re the one taking it and putting it in your body – it should be your choice, not theirs.”

Congress is reviewing new proposals from the Food and Drug Administration that would allow generics-producing companies to pay fees in order to facilitate a faster testing process. If approved, the generics market will be poised for significant growth beginning in October. The FDA is also currently outlining regulations for the development of generic versions of biological drugs, which would allow for more complex pharmaceuticals to enter the market at affordable prices.

Nina Kosinski, 55, of Portage Park said that she would trust the generic form of any drug that received FDA approval. “All our prescriptions at home are generics except one that does not come in a generic form. My husband has cancer right now so if we can use a cancer drug that’s generic, we will do that.”

Lakeview resident Cecil Mathews, 78, agreed. “I’ve been taking them for several years, and I haven’t had any problem,” said Mathews, who uses cardiovascular drugs. “Anything the FDA approves, I would take.”

Many said they saw no difference between generics and non-generics. “I always take generics if I can because I think drug costs should be lower and I want to support that,” said Peter Debaz, 25, a resident of River North. “The only hurdle for a new drug is just to see what the effects are – it doesn’t matter if it has a brand name or not.”

Others said familiarity with certain brand-name drugs has kept them loyal despite the price differential. “I’m more for name-brand drugs only because I’ve used them before and, if I like them, I buy them again and if not then I buy something else,” said North Side resident Arlene Smutny, 71. “I have some favorites that I really like.”

But for most, the economy is dictating the choice. Elmwood Park resident Rosetta Veronica said her attitude toward generics has changed with the economic climate. “Years ago I used to go according to the brand name and that was it, but now it’s different,” she said. “Everyone’s trying to go easy on their money.”