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Home arrow Resources arrow Articles arrow Brand Name Vs. Generic Prescription Drugs: Understanding the Basics

Brand Name Vs. Generic Prescription Drugs: Understanding the Basics

Navigating the world of brand name vs. generic prescription drugs doesn't have to be puzzling. While the best source of enlightenment of the similarities and differences should be from your pharmacist or physician, we've outlined the basics to get you started.

Brand Name Drug

A brand name drug is a medication that has been developed and sold by a pharmaceutical company. To prevent other companies from copying and marketing the same drug, the pharmaceutical firm that developed the drug files for a patent. There are brand names and generic names for both over-the-counter medications and prescription drugs.

A classic over-the-counter drug example is the popular pain reliever and fever reducer Tylenol. Tylenol is the brand name, owned by McNeil Consumer Healthcare, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, and acetaminophen is the generic name.

In terms of prescription medications, an example is the diabetes generic medication metformin. A brand name for metformin is Glucophage, which is manufactured by Bristol-Myers Squibb.

While the brand name has the first letter capitalized, the generic name does not.

Generic Drugs

Generic drugs are comprised on the exact same active drugs as their brand name Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved counterparts. Once a patent on a brand name pharmaceutical drug expires, generics become available. Patents on brand name drugs, can be lengthy however -- upwards of 20 years. In some cases, the same pharmaceutical firm that manufactures the brand name steps in and manufacturers the generic from.

As far as intended use, dosage, risks, side effects, dosage strengths, and method of taking (dosage form), generic drugs are identical to the original drug.

Generic drugs may look different than their brand name cousins. For example, they may have coloring agents added to change the color or they may be a different size or shape. Although generics must contain the same active ingredients, they may contain different inactive ingredients than their corresponding brand name medicine.

Some people worry that because generic drugs are less expensive than the brand drug that they may be of a lesser quality or not as effective. However, generic drugs must adhere to strict standards of quality and strength to be approved by the FDA and marketed to the public.

Because pharmaceutical firms don't have to pour out funds on costly drug research, clinical trials, marketing and advertising on generic drugs, generic medicines are typically less expensive than their brand name match. These savings are then passed onto the consumer when using generic medications.

Role of Insurance for Medications

For consumers, insurance can play a role in whether they choose a brand name medicine or generic drug (if available). Some insurance plans only provide coverage for generic drugs, when available, or pay a reduced portion of a brand name drug.

Is the brand name medication or generic form the best option? The answer to this questions depends on several factors: How different is the out-of-pocket expense between the two drugs? Or, how sensitive is your system to medication changes?

If you are currently taking a brand name medication or may need to do so in the future, it is worthwhile to ask your physician if a generic alternative is available to make an informed choice. In the end, though, only you and your doctor can decide which medication version -- brand name or generic -- is best for treating your medical condition.

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