People go to outlet malls because they can often save anywhere from 25% to 65% (Consumer Reports, Dec. 9, 2018). The average discount, according to CR, is 38%. The appeal is brand name quality at a lower price.

Most people don’t realize that they can get a similar value for their prescription medicines if they seek authorized generic (AG) drugs. This option is rarely mentioned by pharmacists, physicians or insurance companies, but it can represent huge savings for brand-name quality.

What is an authorized generic drug? According to the Food and Drug Administration: “The term ‘authorized generic’ drug is most commonly used to describe an approved brand name drug that is marketed without the brand name on its label. Other than the fact that it does not have the brand name on its label, it is the exact same drug product as the branded product. An authorized generic may be marketed by the brand name drug company, or another company with the brand company’s permission.”

The savings can be substantial. For example, The Costco Member Prescription Program sells brand name Lipitor (atorvastatin). The cost for 90 pills (10 mg) is $236.52. The brand-name manufacturer, Pfizer, has an AG agreement with its subsidiary Greenstone/Viatris. The identical 90 atorvastatin pills cost $16.23. That is a 93% discount for the same exact medicine.

How does that compare with other generic atorvastatin? Costco also sells atorvastatin from the generic drug manufacturer Apotex. It costs $15.99 for 90 pills. The difference is that the authorized generic atorvastatin is identical to brand name Lipitor.

Not infrequently the AG product is made on the same production line as the brand name. Sometimes the pill may even have the same markings as the branded product.

Why should anyone care about seeking out authorized generic medications? For the past year, the FDA has been unable to conduct inspections on generic drugmakers overseas because of COVID-19. There were questions about quality even before the pandemic began.

Some readers have found that a standard generic may not work as well as the brand. For example, Sandy reported: “I have been on Zoloft (sertraline) since 2000 and was doing fine until it went generic. My physician told me the FDA allows some variability in the generic. He also told me the binders may release the medication at different rates.

“When I discovered Greenstone sold an authorized generic version of sertraline, everything changed. As soon as my pharmacy ordered them, I felt fine again.”

Not all brand-name medicines have AG equivalents. To learn whether your prescription is available as an authorized generic you can check with the Coalition for Authorized Generics at www.AuthorizedGenericMedicines.org.

Physicians, pharmacists and other health professionals may not always know about authorized generic drugs. That’s why patients may need to take the lead by showing their prescriber an article in JAMA Internal Medicine published online on Jan. 25 (tinyurl.com/4p2fxqyg). This may help you recruit your health care provider as an ally in your quest to balance quality and affordability.

Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Teresa Graedon holds a doctorate in medical anthropology and is a nutrition expert. Their syndicated radio show can be heard on public radio. In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email them via their website:

www.PeoplesPharmacy.com.

— King Features