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Generic Drug Guide

A Consumer's Guide to Generic Drugs

Consumers can save up to 50% on some prescription drugs by using low-cost generic drugs that are the therapeutic equivalent to brand names. Whenever your doctor prescribes drugs for you, ask if there are suitable generic alternatives to treat your ailment. Using these generic drugs can save you a lot of money.

Although pharmacists cannot fill a prescription with a brand-name drug if a doctor has authorized a therapeutic equivalent, they are not required to give customers the lowest-priced generic drug available. So you can save even more money by pricing your prescriptions at several drugstores. According to New York State law, pharmacists must provide customers with a list of current prices for the usual doses of the 150 most commonly prescribed brand-name drugs, and their generic equivalents.

New York State Generic Drug Law

According to New York State law, pharmacists must dispense all drugs as prescribed by doctors. If your doctor prescribes a generic drug, the pharmacy should not substitute it with a more expensive brand-name drug. There is one exception to this rule: if the generic is out of stock, the pharmacist may fill your prescription with a brand-name drug. In a medical emergency the pharmacist can charge you the brand-name price, but otherwise, the pharmacist must bill you at the generic price.

What are Generic Drugs?

Generic drugs are drugs marketed under their internationally recognized official names. Many companies manufacture drugs of identical chemical composition to brand-name drugs. These drugs are the "generic therapeutic equivalents" of the trademarked drugs. Many commonly prescribed drugs have generic therapeutic equivalents. Some prescription drugs are protected by patent, however, and therefore no generic substitute exists. Always ask your doctor if there is a generic therapeutic equivalent to your medication and whether he or she plans to use it.

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has helped New York State list over 2,000 drugs produced by many different companies. The list, or "formulary," identifies generic drugs that are safe, effective and therapeutically equivalent to brand-name drugs. Your pharmacist chooses generic substitutes from this list of FDA-approved drugs.

Some generic drugs are readily available at pharmacies. If a generic drug is unavailable because it is out of stock, the pharmacist must tell you so. That gives you the option of waiting for the generic drug to be restocked or filling your prescription elsewhere.

What are Brand-Name Drugs?

Brand-name drugs carry a company’s trademarked name. Brand names are usually shorter and easier to pronounce and remember than the corresponding generic names. For example, Darvon, a pain killer, is the brand name for propoxyphene hydrochloride.

Are Generic Drugs Readily Available?

Your doctor decides whether you will get a brand-name or generic drug when he or she writes a prescription. Each prescription written in New York State must have one line for the doctor’s signature and a box beneath it for the words "Dispense as Written." If your doctor prescribes a brand-name drug, he or she must write "DAW," meaning "Dispense as Written," in the box. If "DAW" is not written in the box, your pharmacist must give you the generic therapeutic equivalent to the drug, if one exists.

Your doctor must tell you whether you should receive a brand-name or generic drug. This also applies to telephone prescriptions.

Are Brand Names Better than Generics?

Brand-name drugs and their generic therapeutic equivalents may look or taste different because manufacturers use different colors, shapes and flavors when making their drugs. Nevertheless, the drugs are the same and act the same way in your body. If the look or taste of a new or generic drug concerns you, ask for an explanation from your doctor or pharmacist.

How to Get the Counseling You’re Entitled to under State Law

New York State law requires all pharmacies to offer customers face-to-face counseling services when filling each prescription and maintain patient medication profiles. The counseling should cover drug safety, side effects, interactions and proper storage. Customers may refuse the counseling, but pharmacists must always offer these services. Pharmacists also must conduct a "prospective drug review" before dispensing or delivering a prescription to a patient that should include screening for therapeutic duplication; drug-drug interactions; incorrect dosage or duration of treatment; drug allergy interactions; and clinical abuse or misuse.

Elder Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage Program (EPIC)

If you are a senior citizen, you may be able to save money on your prescriptions through Elder Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage (EPIC), a drug assistance program operated by New York State. To find out if you qualify for EPIC and to obtain more information, call the toll-free EPIC number, (800) 332-3742.

How to Resolve Complaints

If you believe your pharmacist or pharmacy is in violation of the New York State Drug Compliance Law by ignoring your doctor’s prescription orders or filling them incorrectly; not offering counseling services; or failing to maintain your medication profile, you can file a complaint with:

New York State Education Department
Office of Professional Discipline
475 Park Avenue South
2nd Floor
New York, NY 10016-6901
(212) 951-6400

If the large blue drug-price poster is missing from your pharmacist’s prescription counter area, call 311. Be sure you know the name of the pharmacy and its correct street address.