What’s the Difference Between a Brand-Name Drug and a Generic Drug?

When your doctor prescribes you a medication, and your pharmacist says there’s a generic version of the drug available. Should you accept the generic version? In many cases, the generic may be the better choice. But there are times when it is not.

Do generic drugs work the same way as brand-name drugs?

Generics are designed to work the same way as a brand-name drug would. They have the same active ingredient and are the same as brand-name medications when it comes to:
  • Quality
  • Dosage
  • Strength
  • Administration

Are generic drugs as effective?

Generic medications are just as effective as brand-name drugs. The FDA states that drug makers must provide evidence that generic medications can be substituted for brand-name drugs and offer the same benefits as the brand-name version. 

So yes, generic drugs are as effective as brand-name drugs, you can swap a generic drug for a brand-name one and get the same effect.

Why do brand-name drugs cost more than generics?

One reason for the difference in cost is that the manufacturers of brand-name medications have to conduct tests, to prove that their drug is safe and is efficient in fixing the problem they say it does. The tests can be costly, and many times the manufacturers will share these costs with the consumer. 

Another reason for the cost difference is that only one manufacturer sells the brand-name drug, while multiple companies can sell the same generic drug, leading to competition in the marketplace and lower costs for consumers. 

Generic medications typically cost about 80% to 85% less than the same brand-name drug. 

How do I tell them apart?

If you’re worried about picking up the wrong prescription, you can relax. Telling the difference between a generic and a brand-name drug isn’t too hard.

Due to trademark laws, generic and brand-name medications cannot look the same. Oftentimes, the name of the generic drug will be the same as the active ingredient. The generic and brand versions may differ on:
  • Shape
  • Color
  • Packaging
  • Flavorings
  • Inactive ingredients
However, these differences don’t mean a generic drug is any less effective or works differently than a brand-name one.

Are generic drugs safe?

Generic drugs are heavily regulated and go through a rigorous review process before receiving approval. 

The FDA will only approve the drug if it meets all the requirements for safety. These requirements are that they must be tested to prove that they offer the same benefits as brand-name medications and that any different ingredients used in the generic drug are safe. They will also test how sturdy the drug’s container is, how long an unused drug will last before it breaks down, and whether the drug’s manufacturer can consistently and correctly make the drug. 

After the medication is approved, the FDA will routinely inspect the manufacturing plant where the drug is made and monitor the drug for any safety concerns. If people taking a generic have bad reactions or side effects, the FDA will investigate, and the manufacturer may have to change how it makes the drug or how it’s used.