April 8, 2009 — 10:35am ET |
By Tracy Staton
All is not well in prescription-land, especially for branded meds. Not only are generic meds prescribed much more often than branded products, but more and more Americans are simply stuffing their scrips into their wallets instead of handing them to a pharmacist for filling. Two troubling trends, particularly for drugmakers that focus on branded products–which of course are more expensive than their generic counterparts, and thus more likely to get skipped for lack of funds.
Let’s take the rise of generics first. We all know that generic competition has been the bane of pharma in recent years, and the threat is only growing as blockbuster remedies fall off patent one by one. But how much of a threat is it? According to market research reported by the WSJ Health Blog, the total number of U.S. generics prescriptions grew by 12 percent a year from 2004 to 2008. Over the same period, the number of scrips for branded drugs dropped by 6 percent a year.
The upshot? While branded scrips outnumbered generics scrips back in 2004, by last year, generics topped brands by a 1 billion-scrip margin. Yep, that’s billion, with a “B”. In 2008, generics scrips numbered 2.4 billion, compared with just 1.4 billion branded scrips.
Meanwhile, the supposedly recession-proof drugs market is nevertheless suffering on the economic downturn. U.S. patients didn’t fill 6.8 percent of their prescriptions for brand name drugs during 2008’s fourth quarter, a 22 percent increase from the first quarter. And that’s specifically because of cost. For generics, patients failed to fill 4.1 percent of their scrips.