Frequently Asked Questions About Generic Drugs
What are generic drugs?
A generic drug is a version of a brand drug. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), compared to the brand drug, a generic:
- Is chemically the same
- Works the same in the body
- Is just as safe and effective
- Meets the same standards set by the FDA
- Often costs much less
There are two forms of generic substitution:
- A generic equivalent is made with the same active ingredient at the same dosage as the brand medication. You can expect the same results as with the brand counterpart.
- A generic alternative works like a brand drug and may be used to treat the same condition. But the chemicals in a generic alternative differ from the brand drug or its generic equivalent. So, overall results may be somewhat different.
Important: Your pharmacist can usually substitute a generic equivalent for its brand counterpart without a new prescription from your doctor. But only your doctor can determine whether a generic alternative is right for you and must prescribe the medication.
Why do generics typically cost less than brand medications?
When a brand drug first becomes available, the manufacturer usually receives a patent. This patent protects their investment in the new drug by keeping other companies from copying and producing it for several years. When a patent expires, other manufacturers can produce a generic version of the drug – and the cost goes down. On average, a generic drug costs 30 to 80 percent less than its brand counterpart.
Why do generic drugs look different than brand drugs?
- Trademark laws require that a generic drug look different than a drug already on the market.
- A generic equivalent will be a different size, shape or color than the brand drug.
- Although the active ingredient in a generic equivalent is always the same as the brand counterpart, the generic may have different inactive ingredients, such as a coating or flavoring.
- Since more than one manufacturer may produce a generic equivalent for the same brand drug, generics can vary based on your pharmacy’s supplier.
Is there a generic equivalent available for the brand drug I’m taking?
Ask your doctor or pharmacist if there is a generic version for the medication you take. About half of all brand drugs prescribed in the United States today already have a generic equivalent, and many others soon will.
How can I learn more about generic drugs?
Your doctor or pharmacist can provide more information about generic drugs. Talk to your doctor to find out if a generic drug might be an option for you.