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Generic Medications the Same as Brand Names?

October 20, 2020
Sarah Falcone RN

In the United States, FDA-approved generic medications account for 90% of prescriptions filled. Your doctor or pharmacy may have asked you about your preference for a generic or brand name drug. This could have left you wondering: are generic medications the same as brand names?

Are Generic Medications the Same as Brand Names?

Generic medications are not exactly the same as brand names. This is because generic medications can have different ingredients, look dissimilar, or have individual effects. In many ways, the FDA ensures that the medications are the same. But here is what you need to know about generic vs. brand name:

What is Generic Medication?

A lot of money goes into research, testing, and marketing before a company can introduce a new drug to the public. Then, they can patent their new medication and own the right to make and sell their product exclusively for five years. This short time allows manufacturers to recoup some of the costs associated with getting their new brand name drug to market.

The patent expires after that time. This means other companies can come along and produce the same medication under a different name. This “copy-cat” is considered a generic medication.

So you may be asking… what is the difference anyway? Well, in many ways a generic medication is like the brand name version. To be approved as a generic drug, the pharmacologic characteristics must be the same as the brand name.  This means that generic medicines are the same when it comes to:

  • dosages and strength
  • intended use
  • effects and side effects
  • route of administration
  • active ingredients

By contrast, generic medications can be approved with different inactive ingredients. So colors, additives, and fillers used to help with binding, flavoring, coloring, or preserving may not be the same. That means that your generic medication will likely look different. Trademark laws in the U.S. prevent drug makers from creating a version that looks exactly like the brand name.

How are Generic Medications Regulated?

The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) regulates generic drugs that are approved for sale in the United States. It provides a process that ensures the medications are safe, effective, and of sufficient quality. Keep in mind that the FDA also investigates complaints about all medications including side effects. They can issue a recall any time there is a concern for safety.

Are Generic Medications Safe?

There are always risks and benefits associated with any medication. Everybody is different, and some are more sensitive to differences in the drugs.

Because the inactive ingredients are not the same, some individuals may notice differences when taking a generic medication vs. a brand name, but this is not always the case.

There have been reports of medications affecting patients differently.

For example, when the onset of effects is felt, how long the medication effects last, and even the side effects can vary when comparing drugs made by different companies or labs.

Keep in mind that some pharmaceutical companies produce both brand and generic forms of medication, so even some of the generics are very close to the original.

It is important to talk to your physician if you are concerned about a generic medication affecting you differently.

Are Generic Medications EFfective?

The FDA requires drug companies to prove generics are effective for treatment in the same way brand name medications are. Some generic medications have been on the market for years and shown to be as effective and a solid choice for some consumers.

Some individuals choose generic versions because they work just as well but cost much less than the brand name. Again, the company making the generic did not have to pass along the cost associated with getting a new drug to market.

So when a patient is going to be on a drug long-term or even for a lifetime, choosing a generic medication can save thousands of dollars a year in medical expenses. Lower costs may mean better compliance for some patients. 

The savings to the individual are important, but it doesn’t stop there. When multiple manufacturers are able to make and sell a medication the competition can drive the cost down and makes healthcare more affordable for the public. Generic medicines save our healthcare system millions of dollars every year.

Are Generic Medications Better?

This answer may be different for each person. As with many choices in your health and medical care, you have to weigh the risks and benefits.

Is it worth it for you to spend more on a brand name medication? Cost is an important factor when deciding what is best. For example, when a person is on medication for a lifetime, opting for a generic version may save thousands of dollars in healthcare costs. On the contrary, generic medication for an acute illness that will resolve quickly could mean a different decision.

Today, many pharmacies routinely fill the generic versions for cost savings to the insurance companies and the customers. The FDA says that increasing the availability of generic drugs in the marketplace encourages competition in the pharmaceutical market which improves access to healthcare.

Conclusion - Book Your Online Doctor Visit

Although generic medications are not identical to their brand name counterparts, the FDA ensures that customers are getting safe, effective, quality options when they chose an approved generic. Although they may have different ingredients, appearances, and effects, the pharmacologic effects are the same. As with all medications, there are risks and benefits that should be weighed when making a personal choice.

If you would like to know more or have questions about your medications, our doctors are available for a virtual consultation. MyVirtualPhysician is a multi-specialty provider with physicians available for a consultation now. Click below to schedule an appointment. If you have any suggestions for additional topics you want to read about please let us know! Don’t forget to follow us on social media.

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