If you’ve ever had questions about brand name versus generic medications, you’re not alone. Many times brand name drugs have a generic, (or “off label”) option, much like you’d think of finding when you’re shopping for food at the grocery store. While the decision to use either a generic or brand name medication is a choice you should make with your doctor or pharmacist, here are a few things to consider.
In terms of similarity, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that generic drugs meet the same standards as brand name drugs. This means that a generic form of medication is required to be equivalent to the brand name drug in use and effect, dosage, safety, strength, quality and route of administration. The generic and brand name drug must also have the same active ingredient.
In terms of differences, though, you may find that a generic form of the drug looks a bit different than the brand name version. For example, if it’s a pill it might be a different shape or color, or have different packaging. Also, generic drugs can have slightly different inactive ingredients, which may affect something like the drug’s flavor. Overall, these differences will not affect how the generic drug works or its safety. Just be sure to check the expiration dates, as that’s another area where the drugs may differ.
While you may be tempted to purchase all generic forms of medication, not all brand name drugs have generic forms. When a new drug is first developed the innovating company secures a patent, which protects the business by not allowing other competitors to make or sell the drug.
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However, when the patent expires, other drug companies may begin making a generic form of the medication. This is one of the reasons why generic medications are typically cheaper than brand name medications. Generic drug manufacturers do not have to repeat the costly clinical trials that the innovating company did. In addition, the cost of promoting the drug through marketing and advertising is also significantly less. In the U.S., about 8 of 10 prescriptions are filled with generic drugs.
Patients must still be aware of the drugs they are taking. There are some generic drugs — like blood thinners and certain heart and lung drugs — that should be carefully discussed with your doctor or pharmacist before being taken in a generic form. These types of drugs may require additional precautions and monitoring due to their strength and composition. It’s always a good idea to talk with your doctor or pharmacist if you’re considering altering any of your medications.
Not just prescription drugs can have generic forms. A lot of times, over-the-counter drugs, like ibuprofen or aspirin, also have generic versions. If any questions arise about the differences in these drugs, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.