Community Catalyst, a national advocacy organization that builds consumer and community participation in shaping of our health system, has just launched the Generics are Powerful Medicine (GPM) campaign, a grant program to help nonprofits jumpstart creative education programs about the safety, efficacy and affordability of generic drugs.
For more information on the GPM program, or to read the Request for Proposals, visit the Generics are Powerful Medicine website at www.genericsarepowerful.org.
When it comes to the value and power of generics drugs, the Prescription Project is the choir GPM is preaching to. PostScript talked with staff attorney Rishi Garg about the new grants and GPM’s big plan to get the word about generics out there.
PS: GPM comes out of a court settlement in a case over whether generics were illegally kept off the market. Do you think this settlement and others (the Neurontin settlement Consumer and Prescriber Grant Program) actually move the ball down the field more than if the off-labeling or buying-off hadn’t happened at all?
RG: While the creation of programs like GPM is one positive result from cases like these, everyone would much rather that pharmaceutical companies play by the rules and not stand in the way of generic competition in the first place.
Pfizer allegedly filed frivolous patent applications and baseless patent infringement claims to keep a generic version of Neurontin off the market and maintain its billion dollar annual sales for that drug. Glaxo is alleged to have done many of the same things for Relafen, in the lawsuit GPM grew out of. Both Neurontin, an anti-epileptic and Relafen, an anti-inflammatory, could have helped millions of people had it been made available as a generic earlier.
So while consumer education programs are important, it would be best for consumers if these cases did not have to be brought. In other words, programs like GPM are intended to cure a problem that it would be better to prevent in the first place.
PS: Who’s your audience? Patients? Prescribers? Swing voters?
RG: Our target audience is patients, and our intent is to focus our education campaign on the uninsured or underinsured. Low-income and minority communities are oftentimes the ones most hurt by high drug prices, the least aware of the benefits of switching to generic alternatives and yet the most likely to benefit from switching. We hope to reach those communities.
PS: You are starting a generics campaign in a brand-name nation. Does your campaign have evidence that more public education about generics = increased usage? K-Mart offers Kathy Ireland blue jeans and sneakers are available cheaply at K-Mart, but women still shell out $200 plus for arguably a molecularly equivalent pair of Seven jeans, and would never think of wearing Kathy Irelands.
Setting aside safety concerns on newer drugs, is it possible that brand preference leaves less elasticity in the prescription drug market for you to work with?
RG: Perhaps, but there is a big difference between life-saving drugs and blue jeans. A large part of the GPM campaign is dispelling myths about the quality of generics.
People do seem to think of generic drugs as less than “the real thing.” The challenge is to dispel that myth, and it’s a very real and large barrier. We hope that working with medical leaders to produce accurate, consumer-friendly literature on the effectiveness of generics will help shatter some of these misconceptions. Once the public perception changes, people will be willing to switch to generics since it will save them money, and will save the healthcare industry billions of dollars.
PS: Following on that, what sort of outcomes are expected or tied to the GPM campaign?
RG: Our hope is that GPM becomes its own on-going self-sustaining project. Over the next five years, numerous patents on blockbuster brand-name drugs will expire and less-costly generic versions of those drugs will become available to millions of consumers. A lot of education will be required so that brand-name drug companies aren’t able to fool people into continuing to purchase expensive brand name drugs in the face of less costly and equally-effective generic alternatives.
PS: Are there any effective consumer education generic campaigns out there now that groups interested in the GPM grants might look to as models?
RG: There are a couple of consumer education campaigns, not just on generic drugs but on prescription drugs generally, that we think offer some useful models and lessons:
1. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan tried a similar campaign to GPM a few years ago and created a great tool called “The Unadvertised Brand” at www.theunadvertisedbrand.com
2. The FDA has a great website which provides answers to common questions about generic drugs at http://www.fda.gov/cder/consumerinfo/generics_q&a.htm
3. A program out of Oregon Health and Science University compares drug effectiveness within different classes of drugs. It can be found at http://www.ohsu.edu/drugeffectiveness/
4. Finally, Consumer Reports created a tool on their website that allows consumers to compare similar drugs and pick the most affordable at http://www.crbestbuydrugs.org/
PS: Will you be making a GPM YouTube video?
RG: The idea of a You-Tube video has been discussed! Stay tuned…