Generic Medicines in Ireland

If you've been using local pharmacy recently, you may have noticed that your pharmacist has offered you a generic substitute for some over the counter medicines, and also for prescriptions where the doctor has used the INN or generic name for your medicine.

Generic medicines are safe copies of well-known medicines. These days, more and more people are choosing generic medicines in Ireland. After all, they contain the same active ingredient as the product they are based on, and they're just as effective and just as safe as branded medicines.

What is generic substitution?

The Government is implementing a law to allow pharmacists to substitute different versions of some prescribed medicines.   Previously, if a brand name medicine was prescribed for you, the pharmacist had to dispense this brand. Under the new law, the pharmacist may substitute the medicine for a safe and less expensive alternative.

This law is being introduced, one medicine at a time, over the coming months and beyond.

The different version, often a generic medicine, is only offered to you if it does the same job as the one on your prescription, and if it has been included on an Interchangeable List published by the Irish Medicines Board. This law will save money for people paying for medicines, and for the taxpayer.

But I already take a generic version of my medicine?

If your doctor prescribes using the INN or ingredient name of your medicine, you very likely have already have offered a generic medicine - many people take generic medicines in Ireland. This new law applies to prescriptions where the prescriber used a brand name on the prescription. Due to this change in the law, generic medicines will become more widespread in Ireland from now on. Recent research published by the ESRI shows that already more people are choosing generic medicines in Ireland. [1]

What drugs are affected first?

The legislation is being implemented in phases, as the Irish Medicines Board has to publish a list of safely interchangeable medicines before the pharmacist can make a substitution. This means that you can be sure the substitution is safe and effective.

The first medicine to be affected was atorvastatin, which is used to control cholesterol. The original brand is known as Lipitor.

List of Interchangeable Medicines

Lists are being published for other medicines on an ongoing basis, with the Irish Medicines Board focusing on the most expensive medicines first.

Switching to Generics

If you would like to know more about generic medicines, the first step is to talk to your GP or Pharmacist to find out if there’s a generic version that would work just as well for you as the brand-name medicine. Your pharmacist will also be able to tell you if you will save money by switching to a generic version.

Make a list of all your medications to bring with you at your next visit to your GP or Pharmacist.

If your doctor or pharmacist changes your regular prescription from a branded medicine to a generic version, they should tell you about the change in advance.

This is to ensure you understand that although your medicine may have a different name, it will still contain the same active ingredient. Your doctor or pharmacist are a helpful source of information and advice when this happens.

When you pick up your prescription, the medicine may look different and there will be a different name on the label. However, it will contain the same active ingredient as the medicine you used before.

[1]Aoife Brick, Paul K. Gorecki, and Anne Nolan. 2013. Ireland: Pharmaceutical Prices, Prescribing Practices and Usage of Generics in a Comparative Context. Research Series No. 32. Dublin: ESRI.