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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Can we trust generic brands?

    Lillie Kilburncolumnist
    Lillie Kilburn

    It seems like an easy way for a cash-strapped student to save money: Buy store-brand versions of brand-name products. After all, whether we’re talking Safeway brand mac and cheese or CVS brand Tylenol, what’s inside the generic package is probably just the same as what’s inside the brand-name box, right?

    According to a Gallup study, many shoppers seem to think so. Seventy-five percent of consumers think that store brands have just the same level of quality as name brands. Eighty-three percent of consumers said they buy store brands regularly. In fact, store brands make up one fifth of products sold at supermarkets and drug stores.

    The concurrent boom of store brands has become quite apparent in recent years, as spartan-looking generic packages have made way for store brands that are attractively plastered with your supermarket’s name.

    But a week ago, the FDA announced that 11 million bottles of acetaminophen – the generic name for the medication we know as Tylenol – are being recalled because they contain miniscule pieces of metal. These pills were sold under the store brands of giants such as Wal-Mart and Safeway.

    Could it be that generic-brand medications aren’t as similar to name-brand products as we seem to think?

    The FDA argues vehemently that generics are just as good as brand-name drugs. In fact, generic versions of drugs (both OTC and prescription) are basically required to be carbon copies of their brand-name siblings: “”the same as a brand-name drug in dosage, safety and strength, how it is taken, quality, performance and intended use,”” as the FDA explains. It estimates that around 50 percent of all generic drugs are actually made by the manufacturers of brand-name equivalents – they just look different because the law requires that they do. As for the manufacturing process – the FDA regulates manufacture of all drugs with equal scrutiny.

    So, would I take a generic drug?

    Usually, I’d be more than happy to.

    Firstly, by buying a generic drug, I’d be getting the exact same product at a cheaper price.

    That’s made possible because with a brand-name drug, I’d be paying extra for the cost of developing and marketing the drug.

    Secondly, I’d feel a little more secure because my drug was generic. Why? A brand-name drug is protected for 20 years under its patent – meaning that for those 20 years, no generic imitations may be made. Many of the 20 years are taken up by development and approval before the drug is actually on the market, but a drug still usually has about seven to 10 years of use before its patent runs out.

    So, if there’s anything wrong with a drug, it’s probably going to show up before the manufacturer’s period of protected use ends. Vioxx, for example, was released in 1999. It was 2004 when Merck withdrew Vioxx – that’s five years.

    Therefore, I’d feel a little more certain that my drug didn’t have unknown and dangerous side effects.

    Well, if generics are so great, how did those tiny pieces of metal get in the acetaminophen?

    This recall says less about the quality of generic drugs in general than it does about the maker of those particular drugs.

    It would be possible to say that mistakes happen to even the most scrupulous manufacturer – and they do. But Perrigo – the company that made those metal-tastic acetaminophen pills – doesn’t seem to be the most scrupulous manufacturer.

    Perrigo is the largest maker of generic OTC medications in the U.S., but it seems to have a bad track record for recalls – 32 product recalls since 1993. In 1997 and again in 2000, Perrigo received warning letters from the FDA about its manufacturing practices. The letter in 2000 recounted six points of failure and followed up this criticism by saying, “”the above identification of violations is not intended to be an all-inclusive list of deficiencies at your facility … the continuing pattern of the lack of complete investigations and resolution of failures and deviations by your Quality Control Unit must be addressed.””

    Yet since 2000, Perrigo had to institute three more recalls of acetaminophen-related products alone (not including this most recent one), including a product that contained 30 percent more acetaminophen than it was supposed to and pain medication that contained “”acrylic mirror”” particles.

    Perhaps Perrigo’s large number of recalls is simply proportionate to the large number of medications it produces.

    Of course, your decision about what medications to take and whether to save money on them or not is up to you. But this is why I said I’d usually be more than happy to take a generic version of a brand-name drug.

    If I were thinking of taking a generic version of a drug, even an OTC-one, it might be wise for me to do some research first. And if I found that the manufacturer of my drug was as sloppy as Perrigo, it might change my mind.

    I just don’t like foreign objects in my pills.

    Lillie Kilburn is a sophomore majoring in psychology. She can be reached at

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