As a national medicine shortage worsens, Lipitor (atorvastatin) — a statin medication used to prevent cardiovascular disease in high-risk cases, as well as abnormal lipid levels — has been among hardest to source. Minister of Health and Welfare Hsueh Jui-yuan (薛瑞元) has said that the shortage would not put citizens’ health in jeopardy, as there are other generic drugs that offer the same effect.
The National Health Insurance Administration has been promoting the “same ingredients, same dosage form, same component” policy for years. The problem is that people still fall victim to media hype whenever there are reports of a shortage of a single brand of drug, forcing the government to repeatedly clarify the issue. If people can learn to regard generic drugs as an alternative to brand-name medicines, there would be a lot less confusion and commotion.
The Federation of Taiwan Pharmacists’ Associations once conducted an online poll, with only half of the participants saying they supported the administration’s policy.
Asked if the statement “I would not go the community pharmacy for drugs over concerns that the prescription drug on offer is not a brand-name drug” applied to them, only 40 percent of participants said that they had never had this concern.
Despite pharmacists’ efforts to convince customers that generic drugs are not counterfeit and are alternative medications developed by other companies that offer the same effect as brand-name drugs, people are still unable to shake off their bias and fixed perceptions. This herd mentality not only causes meaningless panic, but hinders Taiwan’s development of generic drugs.
While generic drugs account for the majority of Taiwan’s pharmaceutical manufacturing industry, generics overall account for nearly 70 percent of the quantity, but less than 30 percent of the cost of items covered by the National Health Insurance.
It goes without saying that without demand, local drug companies would not pour more resources into research and development, leaving the generic drug industry to stagnate.
Taiwan became a member of the Pharmaceutical Inspection Convention and Co-operation Scheme in 2015, indicating that Taiwan’s manufactured drugs meet the global standard.
Under the promotion of the Federation of Taiwan Pharmacists’ Associations and the collaboration of hospitals and institutions, most of the refillable prescriptions for patients with chronic illnesses are no longer labeled as “noninterchangeable.”
However, there are still cases in which hospitals have told patients that they have prescribed them “brand-name drugs,” giving people the false impression that they were given medication of superior quality.
Hsueh hit the nail on the head when he said that it is not true when people claim they are not used to generic drugs. Nonetheless, other than relying on pharmacists to teach the public about efficacy of generic medication, the government should create resources and systematically teach the public about generic drugs.
The government should step up its supervision of hospitals. In countries such as Canada, the UK and the US, pharmacists have to list the ingredients of the drug on prescriptions to avoid patients misunderstanding them.
Even though it is a Herculean task to educate the public, peoples’ misconceptions about generic drugs have influenced the drug manufacturing industry and the National Health Insurance system. Only by implementing reforms can the government clear the stigma of generic drugs, enhance the development of the industry and improve citizens’ medication welfare.
Huang Jin-shun is president of the Federation of Taiwan Pharmacists’ Associations.
Translated by Rita Wang
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