MOBE | Generic vs. brand-name medicine: what’s the difference?

Generic vs. brand-name medicine: what’s the difference?

Have you ever gone in to pick up your prescription medication and had your pharmacist offer a generic version for the brand you’ve previously taken?

Generic medications often cost less than their brand-name versions, but you may wonder if they are equally as safe and work as well as the brand you know.

Answers to common questions

Here are some common questions and answers about generic and brand medications to help you make an informed choice at the pharmacy counter.

What are the differences between brand-name and generic medications?

The short answer: not much. But understanding those small differences is important.

Generic medications are equivalent to the brand-name version when it comes to intended use, the formulation (tablet, capsule, liquid), how it is taken, and how the medicine breaks down in your body. A generic version will also have the same strength, quality, safety, and manufacturing standards as the brand-name prescription. There can be slight differences between color, shape, or size, but any acceptable differences shouldn’t impact how the drug works.

The main difference is that the brand-name medication is developed and sold exclusively by one company under a trademark name, usually protected by patents for a period of time. A generic medication is sold once the brand-name product’s patent expires.

Do generic and brand-name medications work the same way?

For the most part, yes. For a product to be considered a “generic” to a brand product, both are made with the same active ingredients and the same, or similar, inactive ingredients. Generic products are tested to show they produce the same blood levels, and in some cases the same effect on your body, as the brand product.

Brand manufacturers and generic drug manufacturers are also required to meet the same high-quality manufacturing standards. Both types of products require approval by the FDA and the manufacturing facilities undergo inspections by the FDA. Because the generic product has gone through this approval process and has demonstrated it is equivalent to a particular brand-name product, pharmacists are generally allowed to substitute the generic equivalent for a brand-name product, unless otherwise instructed by the provider or law.

Why are generics usually cheaper than brand-name medications?

There are a few reasons that brand-name meds are higher in price than their generic versions:

  • The cost of research and development
    The company that develops brand-name medicine invests in research and development, which can be very costly and take years or even decades.
  • Bringing the medicine to market
    Once the medication is approved by the FDA, the manufacturers then invest additional money in marketing, advertising, and distribution.
  • Maintaining FDA approval
    It costs additional money to maintain the required quality and safety monitoring to support continued FDA approval.

The brand-name manufacturers may hold patents that allow their medication to be the only version available on the market, for up to 20 years. This exclusive time on the market allows the brand company to get back some of the investment costs and make a profit.

After a brand-name patent expires, generic manufacturers can start selling the generic equivalents, which were developed following a less expensive and shorter process. Because the development and marketing costs are a fraction of what was required of the brand-name product, generic medications can be up to 85% cheaper.

Are generics always the best choice?

That depends. Often, generic medications are an important lower-cost option that still provides the desired effect. However, there can be certain circumstances where you might need to consult your provider or pharmacist when switching between a brand name and generic medicine:

  • You have a known allergy to common inactive ingredients or have developed a reaction to the generic version—Generic medications have the same active ingredients as the brand-name product but may have slight differences in inactive ingredients. Although rare, it is possible to develop a side effect or reaction to inactive ingredients such as lactose, gluten, or certain dyes. The risk of this type of reaction is the same when starting any new product, brand or generic, so always let your retail pharmacy know if you have known allergies to ingredients that may be used in drug products.
  • A generic version of your medicine does not exist—For some medications, generic products may be unavailable or delayed if no generic company has chosen to develop or been successful at developing the product, if there are patent disputes between the manufacturers, or for other reasons.
  • You’re taking a “narrow therapeutic index” medication—Some medications require close monitoring if you make any changes to your dosage. Small differences in dosage or the level of the active ingredient in your blood may cause unwanted effects. A generic version may still be an option for you but it’s best to make that decision with your health care provider, retail pharmacist, or MOBE Pharmacist to help you monitor the switch.

Get more answers with a MOBE Pharmacist.

If you find yourself considering switching between a brand and generic medication and are wondering if it’s the right choice, ask a MOBE Pharmacist for guidance.

A licensed MOBE Pharmacist can help you minimize risks and make the most of your medications—including prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, herbals, and supplements. Get started today.