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Q. Recently, my insurance company switched my cholesterol medication from Lipitor to generic atorvastatin. Are generic medications as good as brand-name drugs?

A. You can take your generic medications with the same confidence that you take the brand-name versions. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that a generic medication contain the same active ingredient as its brand-name counterpart. It must contain the same amount of medication and be equally absorbed by the body.

Many people feel that generics must be “cutting corners” since they are cheaper alternatives to the name brands. However, generic manufacturers are not allowed to skimp on the active ingredients. Also, they can achieve substantial cost savings – and pass them on to you – because they don’t need to fund new research to prove that their products are safe and effective, since the original brand manufacturer has already taken care of that.

Generic makers also don’t need to invest in marketing to promote the new drug to doctors or buy advertising to keep it in the public’s eye.

Recently, the FDA ordered a drug company from India to recall its generic atorvastatin when small particles of glass were detected in the medication. Although this received a great deal of attention, the FDA has issued similar actions to U.S.-based brand name drug makers in the past. These rare instances of recall reassure consumers that the FDA monitors drug manufacturers for quality.

– Dr. William Kormos, editor, Harvard Men’s Health Watch