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Using generic drugs

National medical care costs continue to rise year after year. “Generic drugs” are one solution expected to help hold down medical care costs. Switching from brand-name drugs to generic drugs is also easier on household budgets and should contribute significantly to cutting medical care costs. Be sure to read all the information provided below to ensure a proper understanding of the benefits of generic drugs, then use them to save on medical care costs.

What are generic drugs?

As you may have gathered from television ads, generic drug are drugs introduced after the period of exclusivity of brand-name drugs (i.e., the term of the drug patent, in principle 20-25 years) has expired. Featuring the same active ingredients as brand-name drugs, they are available at lower cost due to lower development costs.

Benefits of choosing generic drugs

Switching from brand-name drugs to generic drugs can lower what you pay at the pharmacy. While this may not amount to much for medicines taken over a short period of time, like cold medicines, it can cut drug costs significantly for people who require medicines over extended periods to treat chronic conditions like dyslipidemia, high blood pressure, or diabetes.

Prices of brand-name drugs and generic drugs
  • ** The amounts shown in the table are drug prices for reference purposes only. The actual amount the patient pays at the pharmacy will include other costs, such as the dispensing technical fee and pharmacy admin fee.

Click here to determine how much you could save by switching drugs you normally take to generics.

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How to switch to generic drugs

Start by asking your doctor

Ask your doctor if you are currently undergoing treatment and have not yet switched to generic drugs. Whatever reluctance you might feel in asking such a question, simply asking “Can I use generic drugs?” can cut your drug costs dramatically. With prompting from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare of Japan, growing numbers of medical care institutions are taking active steps to encourage the use of generic drugs. Don't be afraid to ask.

Check “the No substitutions” space on your prescription

Current prescriptions indicate whether or not it is possible to switch to generic drugs for each medicine. In a case of generic prescribing* using a generic name for a drug instead of a trade name, you are free to choose a generic drug at the pharmacy.

  • *Generic prescribing refers to writing prescriptions on which the doctor specifies active ingredients instead of trade names for drugs. Sometimes a generic drug will be denoted by the word generic preceding the drug name.

How to find a pharmacy that stocks generic drugs

The Japanese Society of Generic and Biosimilar Medicines grants its “Gold Mark” certification to pharmacies stocking at least 300 types of generic drugs and its “Silver Mark” certification to pharmacies that have declared their intent to actively comply with patient requests to switch to generic drugs and answer questions about generics. We recommend a pharmacy that displays one of these marks.

The Japan Society of Generic and Biosimilar Medicines' “Gold Mark” and “Silver Mark”

Gold Mark

Silver Mark

The Japan Society of Generic and Biosimilar Medicines' “Gold Mark”

The Japan Society of Generic and Biosimilar Medicines' “Silver Mark”

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You can also try switching to generics temporarily

If you are worried about switching suddenly to generic drugs, you can split the number of days of the prescription. For example, for a four-week prescription, you can have the prescription filled for just the first week, then have the prescription for the remaining three weeks filled if there are no problems with the medicine. (This is called split dispensing.) When you use this split prescription system, you must pay the pharmacy a generic drugs split dispensing fee. Ask your pharmacist for more information.