Woolworths customer stunned by HUGE price difference of household staple

A shopper's discovery has ignited a debate about the effectiveness of generic and brand-name medicines.

·4-min read

When it comes to medicines, are you happy to pick up a generic product or do you fear it won't work as well as a brand-name counterpart in flashier packaging? If you're in the latter camp, you might be spending over 600 per cent more than you need to.

Questions about the effectiveness of generic and well-known medicines arose last week when a shopper spotted a massive price difference between Panadol and a store-brand paracetamol sold by Woolworths.

In a photo shared on Reddit, the customer revealed that a 20-pack of Panadol Rapid is priced at $6 and regular Panadol is selling for $5.40, while a Woolies version on the shelf below - also a 20-pack - costs just 85 cents.

Paracetamol products for sale at Woolworths
Shoppers have questioned how Woolworths can charge so much less for paracetamol than well-known medicine brand Panadol. Source: Reddit/DOSHman154

That works out to 30 cents per Panadol Rapid tablet, 27 cents per regular Panadol tablet and 4 cents for a Woolworths Essentials paracetamol pill (making the Woolies brand roughly 606 per cent cheaper than Panadol Rapid and 535 per cent cheaper than regular Panadol).

"Is there a difference between these two products?" the Reddit user asked, setting off a discussion about consumer expectations when it comes to medicines at high and low price points.

Identical effects

The important to thing to know when choosing medicines is that Australian regulations require generic drugs to work in the exact same way as their brand-name equivalent. This applies to both prescription and over-the-counter medicines.

As outlined on the NPS Medicinewise website, generic medicines must be approved by the government's Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and meet the same strict standards of quality, safety and effectiveness as the original brand.

Generic medicines must be proven to be bioequivalent to the original brand before they can be sold, which means that the active ingredient is identical and has the same potential health benefits - and side effects - as the original brand.

In fact, as consumer advocacy group CHOICE points out, generic and brand versions of the same drug may even be produced in the same factory by the same manufacturer.

Paracetamol products for sale at Woolworths
The Woolworths own brand paracetamol was pictured sitting right below the much more expensive Panadol packs. Source: Reddit/DOSHman154

The real differences

What can differ between brand-name and generic medicines are the inactive ingredients, knows as excipients, which are used as coatings, fillers, binding agents and dyes. These can include lactose, gluten, preservatives and sweeteners.

If you can't ingest or be exposed to any of these inactive ingredients due to certain medical conditions or allergies, you may need to check with your pharmacist or doctor before choosing a medicine brand.

There are also a small number of prescription medicines by multiple brands that contain the same active ingredient but aren't bioequivalent due to differences in manufacturing. NPS Medicinewise explains that in these cases, your doctor would only prescribe the brand that is suitable for you.

Why generic medicines are so cheap

You might be inclined to see bargain prices as an indication that generic medicines don't do the same job as their brand-name equivalents, but the real reason for the price gap makes more sense.

Government website Health Direct explains that brand-name medicines usually come with a higher price tag than their generic counterparts because the manufacturers of generic drugs don't incur expenses in developing a drug or purchasing the rights to market it.

A brand-name manufacturer will invest big money in developing a medicine with a new active ingredient, which will be protected by patent for several years. Once the patent for a medication has elapsed, however, other pharmaceutical companies can create drugs using the same active ingredient.

Speaking about the price differences between paracetamol products at Woolworths, a spokesperson for the retailer said, "We offer a wide range of products and brands to cater to different customer preferences and budgets."

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