Generic vs. Brand Name Drugs: 13 Things You Should Know
Category: Prescription Related Questions
Posted on November 1, 2021
Scott is passionate about health and wellness, and enjoys writing on various topic surrounding these fields. Scott lives in Seattle and spends his free time restoring old furniture and playing pickleball with his friends.
Did you just bring your prescription refill home only to find it looks different? Don't fret because it's probably a generic version of your medication.
Knowing the differences between generic vs. brand name drugs is useful for patients and providers alike. While they're both useful, you may find one works better for you.
Read on to learn more.
1. Which Comes First
One of the biggest differences between generic vs brand name drugs is which hits the market first. The brand name version will always be available before a generic version.
Brand name manufacturers have to spend time and money on research and development of the drug. Then, they have to go through the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process.
Finally, the brand name will be available to treat the conditions that the FDA approves it to treat. After the drug hits the market, doctors and patients will slowly switch over to it to test it out.
Having that time to test the one drug means you can figure out if it's the right medication for you. And you won't have to worry about experimenting with different generic versions.
2. Brands Get Patent Protection
After a drug manufacturer files for FDA approval, the drug will receive a patent for the next 20 years. That gives the company plenty of time to sell the drug and make back the money it spent on research and development.
While other manufacturers may be able to develop generic versions, they can't release those drugs until the patent expires. At that point, the generic drugs will have to go through the same approval process with the FDA.
The companies making generic drugs have to prove that the drug works the same way as the brand name version. Otherwise, the drug won't be able to hit the market.
Once the 20-year patent expires, one generic could become available. However, if multiple companies develop a generic, there could be a ton of options.
3. Generics Aren't Always Available
Because of the patent period, not all brand name drugs have a generic equivalent. If a brand drug just hit the market, it will be the only option for a while.
However, generics aren't always going to hit the market as soon as a patent expires. The brand name manufacturer may do whatever it can to keep the FDA from approving generic drugs.
That way, the brand can keep charging a massive amount for the medication. But since they won't allow a generic drug to receive FDA approval, patients have no choice but to pay those high rates.
This tactic is especially common with specialty drugs, though any manufacturer could attempt something similar. It's unfortunate for patients, so you may need to switch to a different medication because of the cost.
While uncommon, there may be drugs that other companies don't want to sell. If other manufacturers don't develop generics, you may not get to take it.
4. Generics Have to Be Similar
When comparing generic vs. brand name drugs, you may notice a few differences. However, the drugs have to work the same way when you take them.
Generic drugs must be the same as the brand name regarding:
- Route of administration
- Active ingredients
Generic medications have to have the same benefits and effects on patients as the brand name. If the quality of a generic drug is lower than that of its brand name equivalent, you shouldn't take it.
The same is true if the active ingredient is slightly different. Active ingredients are the most important part of medication, so any difference in that can have massive consequences for anyone taking the medicine.
Before you take a generic drug, you should look to make sure the active ingredient is the same as for the brand. That way, you can feel safe taking the medication despite its differences.
5. They Have Different Inactive Ingredients
One of the differences you'll find between brand name and generic drugs is the inactive ingredients. These make up the medication, but they aren't the ingredient that treats or relieves symptoms.
The active ingredient needs to be the same, but things like dyes can differ between manufacturers. Because of this, the generic medication may taste slightly different.
However, these differences have to exist so that the generic drug doesn't violate the brand name's trademark. Even after the patent expires, the brand still maintains a trademark for the formulation of the drug.
In a lot of cases, the inactive ingredients don't matter, so you can take any version of the medicine. But there are some cases where the ingredients can make one version better than another.
6. The Appearance Can Differ
Along with the variety of ingredients, you will find that generic drugs look different from the brand name. Factors that differ include the shape and the color.
If the medicine has numbers imprinted on it, those can also differ between generic and brand name drugs. Like with the formulation, the appearance has to be unique to keep from violating the brand name's trademark.
Some generic drugs may appear similar to the brand name. Maybe the color is slightly lighter or darker, or perhaps the shape is a bit rounder on one version of the medicine.
As long as the generic drug has the same active ingredient and is the same dosage, it can look very different. It's up to the manufacturer to design the medication to meet standards without impeding on the brand name.
7. Generic Drugs Are More Affordable
If you've ever compared generic vs. brand name drugs, you've probably learned that generic drugs are more affordable. They have to compete with the existing brand name drug as well as other generics to sell the medicine and make money.
Taking generic medicine can be an excellent way for patients to save money on healthcare costs. You can shop around for a pharmacy that uses the cheapest generic drug available.
Of course, this isn't always an option, such as if you're taking a new brand name drug. But if you need to take a medicine that has been on the market for decades, generic is the way to go.
In most cases, it will be perfectly okay for you to take the medicine. And you won't have to pay as much for the drug each time you refill it.
8. Generic Drugs Are Safe
Even though they cost less, generic drugs have to go through the same approval process and brand name medications. That means the generic version will almost always be as safe as the brand.
You can get the generic medicine from your local pharmacy, or you can shop around at safe pharmacies online. Then, you'll have more choices regarding how you get the drugs you need.
If you want to be extra safe, you could wait for a generic to be on the market for a few years. At that point, your doctor may have access to studies and results from patients taking the generic version.
You'll be able to decide if you want to switch to the generic drug. However, if you don't want to wait, you should be able to switch early on and still have good results.
9. There Are Generics and Authorized Generics
When looking at types of generic drugs, you should consider authorized generics. An authorized generic drug refers to a medication that the original manufacturer created to sell along with the brand name.
That gives manufacturers a way to make money from the second version of the same drug. The brand name version may still cost more, and the company can make some sales from it.
However, the company will be able to make more sales by offering a generic for a lower cost. That way, they don't have to worry as much about the competition for generic drugs.
Like any other generic version, they can't look identical to the brand name. So you may not even know if you're taking an authorized generic drug or a regular generic.
10. Some Insurance Plans Require You Get Generic Drugs
When comparing health insurance plans, consider if the plans require you to take generic medicines. Some insurers won't pay for the brand name, so you either can't take it, or you have to pay more for it.
You might find that the copay for a brand name is significantly higher. If that's the case, you may want to stick with a generic drug until you either switch plans or can afford the higher cost.
Since some drugs don't have generic alternatives, you should also ask your insurance company about that. Hopefully, they will cover the cost of the brand name since a generic isn't on the market.
But you may still need to pay for a decent chunk of the cost. You might decide to go out of network to get the medication you need, but that can also be costly.
11. Certain Generic Drugs Are Significantly Different
While most generic drugs have minimal differences from the brand name, that's not always the case. Some drugs can work differently, and taking the wrong version can have devastating effects.
Narrow therapeutic index drugs include certain medications that require precise dosage. Even a small difference regarding the dose or the blood concentration can keep the medication from working properly.
Drugs that fall into this category include flecainide, lithium, and certain anti-epileptic drugs. If you need to take one of these drugs, you should consider if a generic is safe for you.
Of course, you could experiment with the generic version, and you might do just fine. You and your doctor should consider the risks before you make the switch.
It may be safe for some patients, but it can be problematic for others. Be sure you know if you're on a narrow therapeutic index drug to make sure you get the treatment you need.
12. Some People Do Better on a Brand Name Drug
Whether a drug has a narrow therapeutic index or not, some people do better on the brand name version. That could be due to the inactive ingredients or other small nuances.
If you take the brand name and switch to generic but then have side effects, you may want to revert to the brand name. Switching back could cause you to no longer have those negative effects.
On the other hand, if you have side effects on the brand name drug, you may want to try a generic version. Your health history and factors such as allergies could affect how you react to different versions of the same medication.
Be sure to keep track of your symptoms and when you take the drug in question. Then, you can speak to your doctor about trying the brand name version to see if it helps you.
13. Your Doctor Knows Best
When comparing generic vs brand name drugs, you may form some opinions. You might start to believe that one is better for you than the other or that you can't afford the brand name.
However, you need to consult with your doctor before switching versions. Your doctor will be able to examine you and consider your history with the drug and drugs in general.
They might find that one type of generic drug has an ingredient you shouldn't take. Then, the doctor may suggest you switch to a different manufacturer or to the brand.
If you have to take one specific version, such as the brand, you don't have to go to your local pharmacy. You can talk to your doctor about your options, such as getting a discount card.
Or you might decide to go online to find a cheaper pharmacy where you can order the medication. Then, you won't have to go broke to get the treatment you need.
Generic vs. Brand Name Drugs: How They Compare
Whether you just received a new prescription or have taken a drug for years, you should compare generic vs. brand name drugs. Generics can be affordable, but they look different, and they aren't always as safe as you expect.
On the other hand, brand name drugs are more expensive. And you don't have to wait for a patent to expire to take the medication, which can be nice if no other medicine works.
Are you ready to save money on your generic or brand name drugs? Order your prescription today.
- FDA: Frequently Asked Questions on Patents and Exclusivity
- The Hospitalist: Cost gap widens between brand-name, generic drugs
- PricePro Pharmacy: Want to Save Big on Your Prescriptions? Choose an Online Canadian Pharmacy
- US Department of Health and Human Services: Treatment of Authorized Generic Drugs
- PricePro Pharmacy: How Much Do Prescription Drugs Cost Without Insurance?
- NCBI: Drugs with narrow therapeutic index as indicators in the risk management of hospitalised patients
- PricePro Pharmacy: Prescription Services at Your Fingertips: How to Order Medicines Online
- PricePro Pharmacy: How to Order Your Prescription Drugs Online from Canada