Many people have heard that switching to a generic medication will save them money.  One of the questions we hear most often is, “How do generic medications compare to their brand name counterparts?”  Knowing the facts about generics versus brand names can help make us all better consumers.

All generic drugs are reviewed and approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or in other countries, by an equivalent federal regulatory body. The regulatory boards all require that generic drugs have the same active ingredients, quality, strength, purity, and stability as brand name drugs. They also must have the same dosage form, whether you swallow it (pill/tablet/capsule/caplet), drink it (liquid), or inject the medication.

Many people are concerned that because generic drugs are often much cheaper than the brand-name versions, the quality and effectiveness have been compromised to make a less expensive product.  The FDA requires that generic drugs be as safe and effective as the original brand name drugs.  Generic drugs are copies of brand name drugs that have exactly the same dosage, intended use, effects, side effects, route of administration, risks, safety, and strength as the original drug.  In other words, the pharmacological effects of generic medications are exactly the same as those of their brand name counterparts.  Another common myth is that generic drugs take longer to work.  The FDA requires that generic drugs work as fast and as effectively as the original brand name products.

Generic drugs are cheaper because the manufacturers do not have the expense of developing and marketing a new drug.  When a company brings a new drug to the market, the firm has already spent substantial money on research, development, marketing and promotion of the drug.  A patent is granted which gives the company that developed the drug exclusive rights to sell the drug for as long as the patent remains in effect.

As a patent nears expiration, manufacturers may apply to the FDA for permission to make and sell generic versions of a drug.  Since there are no startup costs for development of a new drug, other companies can afford to make and sell it for a less expensive amount.  When multiple companies produce and sell a drug, the competition drives the price down even further.

The FDA applies the same standards for all drug-manufacturing facilities.  Many companies manufacture both brand name and generic drugs.  In fact, the FDA estimates that 50% of the generic drugs are produced by the same company that created the initial brand name drug.

Generic versions of drugs have different colors, flavors, or combinations of inactive ingredients than the original medications because United States trademark laws do not allow the generic drugs to look exactly like the brand name medication.   However, the active ingredients must be the same in both generic and brand name medications, ensuring that both have the same effectiveness in treating a medical condition.

A physician’s decision to prescribe a brand name over a generic is based on the needs of the patient.  Three in four physicians allow generic substitutes for brand-name drugs, even though most of them do not have a “dispense as generic” box on their prescription pad.

Pennsylvania law allows pharmacists to substitute generic drugs for original brand named drugs, unless the person writing the prescription, or the patient, directs otherwise.  If the physician writes “Brand Necessary” or “Dispense As Written (DAW)” on the prescription, the pharmacist may not substitute the brand name medication with a generic alternative.

All patients are encouraged to discuss generic alternatives with their physicians prior to filling a prescription.  The doctor and the patient should agree on the best course of treatment for any diagnosed medical condition.

A Guide to Legal Issues in Health Care: Prescription Drugs  Retrived September 16, 2006 from Are Generic Medications the Same as Branded Counterparts?  Retrieved September 16, 2006 from COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA GENERIC DRUG EQUIVALENCY/SUBSTITUTION LAWS & REGULATIONS Retrieved September 16, 2006 from Physicians Feel About Prescribing Generics  Retrieved September 16, 2006 from
Prescription Drugs – Generic vs Brand Name  Retrieved September 16, 2006 from, MD, M., Generic Drugs, Are They As Good as Brand-Names?  Retrieved September 16, 2006 from

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