Name-Brand Versus Generic Medications: Big Difference?


The world of prescription medications can be hard to navigate, but it’s so important that you know what you are putting into you body and how those drugs will affect you. And it’s not as simple as picking up a prescribed medication and  BAM your cured— you have options regarding the medicine you take. Many people don’t know they have a choice between generic vs. brand name drugs, and they certainly don’t know what the difference is (or if there is a difference).

Generally speaking, the term generic comes with negative connotations. Generic means basic, unoriginal, inferior and un-trademarked. And basic is not nearly as appealing as other unique, specialized, brand-name options, especially when it comes to your health and medications. But it’s important to know what generic drugs are all about, and what is the difference between generic and brand name drugs.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, “in the United States, 9 out of 10 prescriptions filled are for generic drugs.” And generic drugs are important for the drug marketplace because they increase competition, reduce prices and help make medication more accessible to everyone in need.

How Are Generic Drugs Made?

Think of them as the copycat medications that are designed to work in the same way as the existing brand-name drug. Once a brand-name drug has been tested, researched, developed and approved by the FDA, it is distributed exclusively for a period of time. But once those patents and exclusivities expire, then other manufacturers are able to create their own versions of those same drugs, making sure the generic version has the same key ingredients, same dosage, safety requirements, strength and performance.

Are Generic Drugs Safe?

Yes, they are completely safe and equally effective as the brand-name drug created for the same needs. The FDA has strict guidelines surrounding how a generic drug is made and distributed. Their review process is designed to ensure all generic drugs are safe and provide the intended results, affecting the human body in the same way as the brand-name medicine. Just because a drug is generic does not mean it has not been tested and vetted by professionals and experts looking out for your safety and wellbeing. On the contrary — generic drugs need to go through an intense approval process to ensure they have the same ingredients, purity and stability as the brand-name version.

Generic Drugs are Often Cheaper

A huge perk of generic vs. brand name drugs is that generic medicines tend to cost less than their brand-name counterparts. It’s not because these generic drugs are any less effective or poorer quality, it’s because they do not have to repeat the clinical studies and testing that were required of the brand-name medicines to deem them safe and effective in the first place. In addition, the more manufacturers making a generic version of a drug, the lower the costs because of competition and the laws of supply and demand.

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Dr. Aaron S. Kesselheim, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School tells the NY Times, “generic drugs are among the best-value products in health care.” And don’t expect this trend (more generic options and decreasing drug costs) to go anywhere. Scott Gottlieb, M.D., the newly appointed head of the FDA, has made it his mission to increase the distribution and availability of generic medicines as a part of the FDA’s Drug Competition Action Plan. He argues that in addition to drug innovation, “access to lower-cost alternatives, once patent and exclusivity periods lapse, also is critical to the nation’s health.”

So, What’s the Right Choice?

It’s hard to say with certainty that one option is always better than the other. Not all drugs are created equal and the drugs you take are a personal choice based on the guidance of your doctor. Make sure you do your research, consult with your medical professional, and do what is right for you. But know that generic drugs are a really good, safe, effective and cost-effective option if brand name drugs are not available to you.