The prayers of many who have high cholesterol have been answered: Lipitor has finally gone generic. Atorvastatin may be here but Lipitor’s maker Pfizer is not going quietly into the night- they would like to keep their 100 million dollar weekly sales in tact. So here’s what you should know if you want to jump on the number one’s statin band wagon.
Lipitor is a cholesterol lowering drug called a statin that mainly works on the LDL, or the “bad” cholesterol. As far as potency, Lipitor is more potent than simvastatin (Zocor) but not as potent as Crestor for reducing LDL after the first dose is taken. Here’s some downsides to statin, including an increase in liver enzymes. Elevated liver enzymes could affect liver function and cause myopathy or muscle pain. If this occurs stop taking the statin and call your doctor. The most dangerous and rare side effect is called rhabodomyolysis. This causes the breakdown of muscle and can eventually lead to kidney failure, but overall, statins are a great drug to lower LDL and help prevent heart disease and heart attacks.
Lipitor was approved in December of 1996 to treat high cholesterol but was later approved for more and more indications like preventing coronary heart disease. These additional indications add life to their patent. A brand name drug patent usually lasts about 20 years and includes the time the drug was in the testing phase. The generic that launched on December 1st is being market by the manufacturer called Ranbaxy. Pfizer has launched its own generic using the Watson manufacturer that looks exactly the same as the brand name Lipitor and has the same markings on the tablet as the brand name version.
Generic atorvastatin is equivalent to brand name Lipitor but some people have allergic reactions or side effects with the fillers and inactive ingredients used in some generic products. In this case atorvastatin inactive ingredients for both generic versions and brand name Lipitor are the same.
So here is how Pfizer is attempting to keep its customers loyal to the brand name Lipitor. They have negotiated directly with pharmacy benefits managers (PBMs) like Caremark and Medco to give you a smaller copay for the brand versus the generic. PBMs are your prescription insurance companies. Usually the PBMs get an incentive from the manufacturer to do this. This is something that is pretty unheard of when something goes generic. Secondly, they are courting you, the patient, by offering loyalty cards that offer you a four dollar copay. Loyalty cards can not be used by people who are enrolled in a state or federal insurance program like Medicare, Medicaid or Tricare. If your copay is over 54 dollars with your insurance, the copay card will still give you money off but you will pay more than four dollars.
If you were on another generic because Lipitor was too expensive now is the time to talk to your doctor about making the switch. Empower yourself, call your insurance and find out what your copay would be. Check with your pharmacist and make sure you are getting the best bang for your health buck.