Saturday, June 9, 2012

Going Generic

Montelukast (Singulair) is the most widely prescribed leukotriene blocker in the United States. It is used to treat both asthma and allergic rhinitis and is approved for both very young children and for adults. It has been a mainstay of asthma and allergy treatment since first approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1998 … and it is costly! On average, a one-month supply costs approximately $150 or as much as $5 per tablet.  Financial relief may be on the way. The US patent for Singulair expires in August of this year, and it is very possible that a generic version of montelukast will be made available soon thereafter.

In general, manufacturers of generic medications are able to sell their medications at a lower cost than the original brand-name version.  The FDA is charged with ensuring that the generic medications are equally effective and safe as their brand-name predecessors.  This past year has seen approval of generic atorvastatin (Lipitor), the cholesterol-lowering medication, and of levofloxacin (Levaquin), a powerful antibiotic. Now, a low-cost generic montelukast may be on its way.

What's our opinion about generics?  In general, we are big fans.  We perceive them as an important way to reduce medication costs, make medications more widely available to those who need them (because of increased affordability), and help reduce the inflated cost of healthcare in America.  True, one may occasionally find that a brand-name version of a medication works better for you or is better tolerated, but that tends to be the exception rather than the rule.  Many, many people miss generic albuterol by metered-dose inhaler, having come to accept the generic version -- when it was still available -- as every bit as good as the branded albuterol inhalers (ProAir, Proventil, and Ventolin). 

On our wishlist: a generic and lower cost inhaled steroid by metered-dose inhaler (such as a generic fluticasone or beclomethasone).  By making inhaled steroids more affordable and thereby more widely used, it would save lives and reduce asthma hospitalizations and emergency department visits across the country.