When your physician prescribes a medication, there are often brand name options as well as generic versions or store brands available. Unfortunately, generic medications are often misunderstood.

What is the difference between brand name and generic/store brand medications?

Generic medications are a chemical copy, with the same active ingredient, as its original brand. Generic medications must meet the same standards as the brand name medication, demonstrating the same quality, safety, and effectiveness. They must have the same dosage strength, dosage form, and route of administration. Most importantly, they must contain the same active ingredient and provide the same benefits. Inactive ingredients used in the production process are the only major difference between brand and generic medications.  

Do most prescription drugs have a generic equivalent?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gives patent and exclusivity protection to brand manufacturers for several years once a new medication is introduced. This is to allow manufacturers to profit off their research for several years. During this period, no generics can compete with the brand. Once a patent has expired for the brand medication, generics can then enter the market.

Do generic drugs cost less than brand name?

On average, generic medications cost 85% less than their brand version. Why is that? Generic medications have slightly different inactive ingredients (fillers, binders etc.), which may be cheaper, but do not affect how the medication works inside your body. It is very important to note that the packaging, and even the look of the generic drug may be different than its brand counterpart, but again, it is deemed to be medically equivalent by the FDA.

As a patient, can I choose a generic or brand name version of a prescription?

Currently, there is no law that restricts the substitution of any FDA-approved generic medication for its brand counterpart, unless the brand is deemed medically necessary by you, or your doctor.

The decision to be on a brand or generic medication is one that can be made between you and your doctor, based on your comfort and budget. A doctor can write “do not substitute”, “dispense as written”, or “brand medically necessary” on your prescription to avoid the change to a generic medication. This is typically seen with more niche drugs, such as certain birth controls, and thyroid medications.

One thing to note, however, is that most insurances prefer to cover the cost of generic medications. Therefore, if your doctor determines a brand medication is necessary, your doctor will most likely need to file a prior authorization with your insurance company. Once that is filed, the insurance company will then review the reasoning for the brand name medication, and then decide if they will cover the cost.

There are many misconceptions regarding the differences between brand and generic medications. Ultimately, what is important to remember is that generic medications are just as safe and effective as branded medications and will most likely cost less money out of pocket.

If you have questions, please feel free to reach out to your local pharmacyour pharmacists are always here to help!