About one month ago, the FDA approved the generic version of Actos (pioglitazone), an oral anti-diabetes medication. This step adds it to the list of other generic diabetes medications, including metformin (brand name: Glucophage), glimepiride (Amaryl), glipizide (Glucotrol) and glyburide (Glynase).
This is a positive step for those relying on medications to help control diabetes since generic medications are sold at a fraction of the cost of their brand-name counterparts. To most experts in the medical field, generic and brand name drugs are equivalent when it comes to quality. Less expensive out-of-pocket cost for drugs means improved compliance in taking medications, which ultimately helps in blood sugar control too.
All diabetes medications are not yet available in their generic forms. When a new medication is developed, the drug developer holds a patent giving them exclusive rights to market the drug under its brand name for a certain amount of time. When this patent runs out, other pharmaceutial companies can apply for FDA approval to create an equivalent drug available in its generic form. New developers must prove to the FDA that their drug is of bioequivalence, that is it functions in the same way as the original, brand-name drug. Generic drugs must also have the same strength and be administered in the same way (pill, injection, etc.) as the original, brand-name drug. One of the patents on Actos expired in 2011.
Pioglitazone works differently than other anti-diabetes medications that are available in generic form. It helps lower blood glucose by increasing insulin sensitivity, or the body cells’ sensitivity to insulin. By increasing insulin sensitivity, pioglitazone helps the body use glucose more efficiently, resulting in lower blood glucose levels. As with most medications, pioglitazone carries a risk of certain side effects, including heart failure in certain people, increased risk of bladder cancer in those who take the drug for more than one year, cold-like symptoms, headache, sinus infection, muscle pain, weight gain and sore throat.
Generic medications should work the same as the originals and they can certainly ease the financial burden. Still, there may be slight differences in which generic drugs behave in the body. If you are interested in switching to a generic form of medication, talk to your physician and your pharmacist. They may give the go-ahead or might have reasons that you should stay on a certain drug that has been working well for you. On the other hand, if you have switched to a generic form of medication and think that it might not be working as well, talk to your physician about this too. They might decide to write your prescription in a way that you receive the brand name drug instead of the generic.
Diabetes management is different for every individual. If you have any questions about your diabetes management plan, including questions about medications, blood glucose goals or meal-planning, contact your diabetes educator.