Picture this: You’ve finally concluded a doctor’s visit. You’re across the room from a physician or across the counter from a pharmacist. You’re baffled, unsure of what your selection should be when considering: Would you like the brand or the generic?
“What does that even mean? Uh, well, how much is the brand? I’ll go with the generic—but is it the same? Uh, okay, see you next time.”
You take the gamble, unknowing of what exactly you’re getting yourself into. Sound familiar?
The FDA reports that 9 out of 10 prescriptions to be filled in the United States are generic as opposed to the brand-name. What’s the deal? The difference between brand-name and generic drugs is somewhat of a literal deal. Generic drugs can typically be purchased for cheaper than their brand-name counterparts.
The Development of Brand-Name Drugs
The development of a new brand drug requires that a pharmaceutical company do extensive tests and research to prove that it is safe and effective for its intended use. In the early stages of development, a new drug is placed under patent protection. The patent gives the pharmaceutical company that developed the drug the sole right to sell the drug while the patent is in effect. Here’s a better look at how the process works:
- A new drug is discovered and developed
- Pre-clinical research is conducted
- Clinical research is conducted
- The FDA reviews all data and makes an approval decision. A patent may be put into effect at this time by a branded company
- The branded company can sell the brand drug for a higher cost during the patent period
- Once the patent period expires, other pharmaceutical companies have the opportunity to create generic versions of the drug
When Generic Versions Come into Play
While the original manufacturer may have its generic version, other companies have the chance to develop their own. These versions are released once the patent is no longer in effect.
These are the versions that tend to be less expensive. The reason they are less expensive is that the groundwork for research has essentially already been done. Certain non-active ingredients are replaced with more cost-effective alternatives that have been approved and do not change how the drug works.
Generic vs. Brand-Name Drugs
If it feels as though this information suggests that generic drugs are lower in quality, that is not the case. Generic drugs must pass FDA regulations that specify they have the same following qualities as brand-name medication:
- Dosage form
- Active ingredient(s)
- Way of being administered
- General performance characteristics
The Differences Between the Two
So, what makes these “new” versions less expensive? Flexibility and interchangeability of inactive ingredients, or the bioequivalence of the two forms, is a key component. In other words, certain inactive ingredients do not affect how the drug works on its intended use.
Therefore, generics may be manufactured with alternative inactive ingredients that still share the characteristics explained in the above section but cost less. To review, the differences between generic and brand-name drugs are as follows:
- The different inactive ingredients such as filler, coating, or dye
- The appearance of the packaging
- Their Cost
How Do I Know if Generic is Safe for Me?
Determining whether or not a generic is safe for a patient because of these small differences is the responsibility of the prescribing physician.
When taking a new medication, it makes sense to research the drug, how long the brand-name drug as been around, and any information about the version you’re considering. Understand that side effects may vary per person.
A Note from GR8NESS
If you’re unsure about introducing a new medication, get multiple medical opinions, and factor it into your ingestion slowly. Always stay informed on up-to-date information regarding the drug. Know that there are options for alternatives to traditional medication, as well.
As patients, we tend to put our lives and bodies in the hands of physicians we trust. This is the beauty and beast of receiving treatment of any kind. Recognizing that human error can occur may serve us well in motivating us to take our health and information into our own hands.