When a patient in the United States fills a prescription, the likelihood that a generic drug will be dispensed is overwhelming—and increasing. Generic drugs account for more than 80% of prescriptions, but only 20% of total drug spending, because of their lower cost. The move to generics is estimated to have saved more than a trillion dollars in the last decade.1
Although generic drugs are bioequivalent to their brand-name counterparts, important legal distinctions between the 2 categories have resulted from 3 Supreme Court decisions. The first, Wyeth v Levine, arose after a woman developed gangrene in her forearm caused by intra-arterial injection of Wyeth’s antiemetic Phenergan (promethazine); the patient was awarded $6.7 million in damages based on her claim that the drug’s label did not sufficiently warn about its risks. In 2009, the Court upheld the award, noting that brand-name manufacturers are primarily responsible for providing accurate safety warnings for the drugs they produce.2 The decision makes sense because premarket testing does not reveal the full range of a drug’s adverse effects, postmarket surveillance by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is insufficient, and state tort liability incentivizes manufacturers to continue monitoring the safety of their products.
Kesselheim AS, Green MD, Avorn J. Who Is Now Responsible for Discovering and Warning About Adverse Effects of Generic Drugs?. JAMA. 2013;310(10):1023-1024. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.228349