Questions about Generics

What are generic medicines? 

Generic medicines are safe copies of well-known medicines.  They contain the same active ingredient, they do the same job and they usually cost less.  They become available when the brand medicine has been around for many years and are safely used all over the world.

Why do medications have brand names and generic names?

  • The brand name is the name given to a medicine by the pharmaceutical company that makes it. This is also called the proprietary name. 
  • The generic name or scientific name is the name for the active ingredient in the medicine that is decided by an expert committee and is understood internationally. This is also called the INN or non-proprietary name.

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 in phases, product by product, 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.

If ypur 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.

Who decides if a medicine is safe to be substituted?

The Irish Medicines Board (IMB) reviews the safety of all medicines, and decides if medicines are interchangeable.  They will keep a list showing all groups of safely interchangeable medicines updated on their website

Which medicines can be substituted?

The legislation will apply first to certain types of medicines, such as those for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, acid reflux and stomach ulcers, as these medicines are widely used and result in significant costs to the State. The first medicine to be subject to a published Interchangeable List was atorvastatin, used for high cholesterol. Other medicines are folllowing on an ongoing basis. Only medicines which are decided by the Irish Medicines Board to be safe for substitution will be included.

Remember, if your doctor uses the ingredient name or INN on your prescription, your pharmacist is free to offer you a generic alternative where it is available. This legislation applies when the prescriber writes a brand name on the prescription.

How will the new legislation work?

When you bring your prescription for one of the affected medicines to the pharmacist, they may offer you a less expensive medicine than the one on your prescription. Your pharmacist will assure you that it is just as safe and effective as the product listed on your prescription. 

What about costs?

A new pricing system means that the HSE will set one price, called the reference price, that it will pay for a group of interchangeable medicines. This will come into effect one medicine at a time.

What will I notice if I get a generic version of my medicine?

Generic versions of a medicine may have different colours or flavours, they may be a different shape or size and come in different packaging. None of these differences affect the way the medicine works .

Can I opt for my usual brand of medicine and not the generic?

Some patients will need to stay with the existing brand for medical reasons.  If this is true for you, your doctor should write ‘Do not substitute’ on your prescription.  If there is a medical reason for your choice, you won’t have to pay extra for it. 

How is a generic medicine similar to a branded medicine?

A generic medicine treats the same disease or condition as the original medicine. As the generic version acts in the same way in the body, it is nearly always interchangeable with the original product. In other words, you can usually use either the original or the generic medicine to achieve the same effect or benefit.

Why are generic medicines used?

Generic medicines can save money for patients and the health service. Generic medicines usually cost less than the original branded product. This is because manufacturers do not need to invest as much money in research, development and marketing as they would if they were producing an original medicine from scratch.

Does every medicine have a generic version?

Not every brand of medicine has a generic version. When new medicines are first made they are protected by patents for a number of years. The patent doesn't allow anyone else to make and sell the medicine. When the patent expires, other medical companies can start selling generic versions of the medicine.

If you have any questions about your medicine, talk to your Pharmacist or your Doctor.

You can also get more information from the Irish Medicines Board and from the Department of Health and Children.