Generic versus Brand Name Drugs: What’s the Difference?

You're sick and, although money is tight, you need medication. Your doctor prescribes you a brand name drug, but the co-pay on the generic variety is cheaper. What do you do? Is there a difference? With spending on health care at an all time high-approximately $2.2 trillion dollars in 2007-it's no wonder that 67 percent of medications dispensed were generic brands. In some cases generics can come at less than one-third the price of brand-names. So, when buying generic brands are you getting what you pay for? Is there a benefit to buying brand-names over generics? Here, answers to your prescription queries.

Are generics of less quality than brand-names? Because generics' prices are substantially lower than their brand-name counterparts, consumers worry about the effectiveness and safety of the drug. Despite price differences, generics are exact replicas of the brand-name drug they are copying. They have the same effects and side effects, usage, dosage, risks, and safety of the original. By law, the generic must work just the same as the other brand. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires both brand-name and generic manufacturing plants to use the same safety and control standards. Essentially, there is no difference between generic and brand name drugs.

If there is no chemical difference, then why are generic brands so cheap? Once a pharmaceutical company develops a drug it is given a 20 year patent. After the patent expires, other companies are free to apply to the FDA to create a generic copy of the original as long as they follow the strict guidelines on its production. The more companies that apply to manufacture the drug, the more competition there is over generic pricing. This drives down the cost of the generic drug.

Then why would my doctor choose to prescribe me a brand-name over a generic? There are two possible answers for this question. First, there may not be a generic brand available. Most patents for pharmaceuticals expire after 20 years, so your particular drug may not be able in generic form. Secondly, some generic brands may have different inactive ingredients than the brand-name sort. Inactive ingredients have no effect on the effectiveness or safety of the drug itself. Other than these slight and risk-free differences, generic and brand-name drugs are chemically the same. If you happen to have an allergic reaction-be it a generic or a brand-name drug-it may have to do with the inactive ingredients. In rare cases, the inactive ingredients may react with other medications a patient is currently taking. A doctor may then choose to prescribe one brand over another.