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

In the previous format used for prescriptions, your doctor needed to sign or affix a seal to prohibit all substitution of generic drugs. This meant that even if you were prescribed multiple drugs, if your doctor signed or affixed a seal to the prescription to indicate no substitutions, switching to generics was not possible for any of the drugs prescribed. In April 2012, the format changed to one that allowed generic substitution for each drug, making it easier to switch to generics.
However, some brand-name drugs still lack generic equivalents. If you are having a prescription filled at a pharmacy outside the hospital for currently ongoing treatment, have the pharmacist check to see if any generic drugs are available to substitute for brand-name drugs. Some doctors are cautious about switching to generic drugs if the patient's condition is stable, based on the belief that would be better to stick with the brand-name drugs already proven effective up to that point.
In such cases, the doctor will instruct the pharmacist not to change the drugs prescribed-for example, by checking or placing an “X” in “the No substitutions” space on the prescription. As long as no such restrictions are indicated for the drug, the patient is free to switch to generic drugs as he or she sees fit.

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 Japanese 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.

Try using “a generic drug request card”

If you consult a doctor at a medical care institution or get a prescription filled at a pharmacy, you can present this card together with your health insurance card, patient card, and other documents to make it easier to indicate your preference for generic drugs.

Click here to print

“Generic drug request card”