Parliamentary Standing Committee for Health and Family Welfare in their recommendation to the ‘Rajya Sabha’ of the Indian Parliament on August 4, 2010, recommended prescription of medicines by their generic names.
This recommendation appears to be based on the premises that the cost of ‘Brand Building’ exercise of the generic drugs in India, including varying degree of presumably ‘high sales and marketing expenditure’ incurred by the formulators towards such efforts, can be easily eliminated to make medicines available to the common man at much cheaper prices.
This recommendation, on the face of it, makes immense sense. However, the moot question remains, “Is it a practical proposition to implement in India?”
In the following paragraphs, let me try to deliberate on this important issue.
Generics and Branded Generics:
As we know generic name is the actual chemical name of a drug. The brand name is selected by the producer of a formulation and is built on various differential value parameters for its proper position in the minds of health professionals as well as the patients. Thus, brand name offers a specific identity to the generic drug.
The prevailing situation in India:
In India, over 50% medicines prescribed by the physicians are for Fixed Dose Combinations (FDCs), spanning across almost all therapeutic categories. Thus, it could be difficult for them to prescribe such medicines in the generic name and could equally be difficult for the chemist to dispense such prescriptions.
Moreover, in case of any mistake of dispensing the wrong drug by the chemist inadvertently, the patients could face serious consequences. It is well known, the concentration of ingredients in the fixed dose combination of any two medicines, many a times, differs from manufacturer to manufacturer. There are over 50,000 odd formulations in the Indian pharmaceutical market and it would be almost impossible for any doctor to keep track of exact concentrations of each of these drugs and prescribe in their right strengths.
Current prescription practice:
Currently doctors use brand names to differentiate one such formulation from the others. Different brands of even single ingredient medicines may have inherent differences in their formulations like, in the drug delivery systems (controlled/sustained release), kind of coatings allowing dissolution in different parts of alimentary canal, dispersible or non-dispersible tablets, chewable or non-chewable tablets etc. Since doctors are best aware of their patients’ conditions, they may wish to prescribe a specific type of formulation based on specific conditions of the patients, which may not be possible by prescribing only in generic names.
Other Patients related issues:
Patients also could face other difficulties due to generic prescribing. As is known, different brands of FDCs may have different proportions of same active ingredients. If chemists do not know or have the exact combination prescribed by the doctor in their shops, thye would possibly substitute with a different combination of same drugs, which could well be less effective or even harmful to the patients.
Prescriptions by generic names instead of brand names could likely to lead to substitution of the medicines at the chemists’ outlets because of the reasons, as mentioned above.
Thus, the major concern with generic prescriptions is that a chemist will then make the choice of the manufacturer while dispensing a medicine. There could only be one criterion for the choice of such medicines by a chemist i.e. to select what gives them highest margin of profit. In such a case, the ultimate decision making authority for the prescription medicines shifts from the physicians to the chemists, which could make the situation far worse for the patients. For the interest of the patients, it is, therefore, extremely important that the government, regulators, physicians, chemists and even the patients’ groups are aware of such risks.
Considering all these risk factors, in my view, if the prescriptions of medicines are made mandatory by their respective generic names in India, it could compromise with patients’ safety, very significantly.
By Tapan Ray
Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.