Switching from brand-name to generic psychotropic medications: a literature review

CNS Neurosci Ther. 2011 Dec;17(6):750-60. doi: 10.1111/j.1755-5949.2010.00210.x. Epub 2010 Nov 30.


Generic medications do not undergo the rigorous approval process required of original medications. Their effectiveness and safety is expected to be equal to that of their more expensive counterparts. However, several case reports and studies describe clinical deterioration and decreased tolerability with generic substitution. Pubmed was searched from January 1, 1974 to March 1, 2010. The MeSH term "generic, drugs" was combined with "anticonvulsants," "mood stabilizers," "lithium," "antidepressants," "antipsychotics," "anxiolytics," and "benzodiazepines." Additional articles were obtained by searching the bibliographies of relevant references. Articles in English, French, or Spanish were considered if they discussed clinical equivalence of generic and brand-name medications, generic substitution, or issues about effectiveness, tolerability, compliance, or economics encountered with generics. Clinical deterioration, adverse effects, and changes in pharmacokinetics are described with generic substitution of several anticonvulsants/mood stabilizers (carbamazepine, valproate, lamotrigine, gabapentin, topiramate, lithium), antidepressants (amitriptyline, nortriptyline, desipramine, fluoxetine, paroxetine, citalopram, sertraline, venlafaxine, mirtazapine, bupropion), antipsychotics (risperidone, clozapine), and anxiolytics (clonazepam, alprazolam). Generics do not always lead to the anticipated monetary savings and also raise compliance issues. Although the review is limited by publication bias and heterogeneity of the studies in the literature, we believe there is enough concern to advise generic switching on an individual basis with close monitoring throughout the transition. Health professionals should be aware of the stakes around generic substitution especially when health economics promote universal use of generics.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Anxiety Agents / pharmacology
  • Anti-Anxiety Agents / therapeutic use
  • Anticonvulsants / pharmacology
  • Anticonvulsants / therapeutic use
  • Antidepressive Agents / pharmacology
  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Antimanic Agents / pharmacology
  • Antimanic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Antipsychotic Agents / pharmacology
  • Antipsychotic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Canada
  • Drugs, Generic / economics
  • Drugs, Generic / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy
  • Mood Disorders / drug therapy
  • Psychotropic Drugs / economics
  • Psychotropic Drugs / therapeutic use*
  • Therapeutic Equivalency*


  • Anti-Anxiety Agents
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Antimanic Agents
  • Antipsychotic Agents
  • Drugs, Generic
  • Psychotropic Drugs