Generic Statins as Good as Brand Name

Cholesterol drugs may be just as safe and effective when they come in generic form

(RxWiki News) Statins are medications used for the treatment of high cholesterol. They come in many branded and generic forms. Does it matter which one a physician prescribes?

A group of doctors looked over the research and costs of generic versus brand name statin medications. They concluded that in almost all cases, generics are cheaper. Most of the major classes of statins are available in generic form. And the generic forms seem to be just as safe and effective.

"Ask your doctor if generic medication can save you money."

The authors of the report, led by Jonas B. Green, MD, MPH, of the Cedars-Sinai Health System in Los Angeles, looked over the published studies for all currently approved statin drugs, like Mevacor (lovastatin), Zocor (simvastatin), Pravachol (pravastatin) and others.

They concluded that all the drugs were fairly similar in safety and effectiveness.

Of the eight different types of statins on the market, six of them are sold in generic form.  So, almost any type of statin a doctor wants to prescribe is available as a generic.

Research showed that most people know that generics are just as good as brand name drugs, but only 37 percent say they prefer generics.

Other research showed that almost one out of every four doctors think that generics are less effective and not equal to the brand name versions.

The FDA requires that generic versions of drugs show that they are just as effective and safe as their branded counterpart. So there does not appear to be a reason for preferring brands – for doctors or patients.

Patients may be spending more money for no added benefit when they are given the branded version.  A search at showed a huge difference in price between generic and brand name forms. 

For example, Pravachol starts at $140 for 30 pills. In generic form, pravastatin starts at $20 for 30 pills. Zocor starts at $90 for 30 pills. Simvastatin (generic Zocor) starts at $18 for 30 pills.

A generic version of Lipitor (atorvastatin) has been approved in a limited way. The limitations mean the generic price is not much less than the $115 to $150 price tag on brand name Lipitor.

For some people, prescription co-pay covers much of the cost of a brand name drug, so maybe people are not seeing the extra cost up front.  However, the insurance companies are paying the brand name prices. The extra costs to the insurance companies may lead to higher co-pay and premiums down the line for everyone.

The authors concluded that there is no reason, in most cases, to pick the higher cost brand name. A generic version is likely available for any statin a doctor prefers to prescribe.

This report focused only on statin-type drugs. It did not assess any other types of cholesterol-lowering drugs or any other types of medications.  So a comparison between generic and brand name drugs may yield different results for drugs other than statins.

This study was published January 7 in JAMA Internal Medicine. Funding information was not available with the article. The authors report no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
January 6, 2013