In the two years from October 2006 to December 2008, the percentage of Americans who said they would choose generics in preference to brand-name prescription drugs increased from 68% to 81%, while the proportion who would more often choose branded drugs fell from 32% to 19%, according to a new Harris Poll.

Moreover, the proportion of consumers who buy their drugs at chain drugstores fell from 39% to 33% and those buying from local independent pharmacies dropped from 12% to 8%. More people are shopping for their medications from discount stores such as Wal-Mart (up from 13% to 17% in the period) or buying them on-line or through mail-order (up from 11% to 15%), the December survey of 2,388 people found.

It also discovered that the amount of money which people say they are willing to pay out-of-pocket for a 30-day supply of generic prescription drugs has gone down; in October 2006, 56% of adults said they were willing to spend more than $10, but by last December only 48% said they would do so. Of course, many of the major grocery chains are now offering big cost-saving deals on generics – for example Wal-Mart charges $4 for 30 days’ supply and $10 for 90 days-worth on a range of more than 300 generics, with no eligibility restrictions. Giant Foods offers a similar service and this month the chain also became, with its Stop & Shop subsidiary, the first to offer free antibiotics, on presentation of a prescription, until March 21.

Harris says it had been expecting an increase in the use of lower-cost generics but the size of the trend is “striking,” and has likely accelerated due to the economic crisis. “It is good news for those seeking to contain health care costs, including the government’s Part D Medicare drug benefit programme. It is not good news for pharmaceutical firms trying to generate the profits to fund their drug research, or for their shareholders,” it adds.

These findings show that consumers understand generics provide the same clinical results as brand-name drugs but at significantly lower costs, commented Kathleen Jaeger, chief executive of the Generic Pharmaceutical Association (GPhA). "When one goes deeper into the findings of the Harris Poll, 40% of respondents said they would ‘always chose to buy generic drugs over brand name,’ a 17% increase since 2006. Conversely, only 4% of respondents said they ‘would always choose to buy brand name prescription drugs over generics,’ less than half of the response tallied in 2006,” she added.

- Earlier this month, the GPhA welcomed the reintroduction into the House of Representatives of HR 573, a bipartisan bill which would prohibit the marketing of authorized generics during the 180-day generic exclusivity period following a patent challenge. The bill seeks to close a “loophole” in the 1984 Hatch-Waxman Act which brand-name drugmakers have used “to delay generic competition by discouraging generic companies from challenging weak and potentially unenforceable patents,” said Ms Jaeger. She praised the bill’s sponsor, Republican Jo Ann Emerson, and colleagues for “working to close this loophole for the benefit of consumers struggling with health care costs during these difficult economic times."