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    Comparing generic vs. brand-name drugs is a common dilemma for many consumers, as both options are often widely available, but the difference between them is not always clear. What are generic drugs, exactly? Are they as effective as their brand-name counterparts? And most importantly, are they safe?


    Let's explore the similarities and differences between generic and brand-name drugs so that you can make informed decisions about your medications.


    Active Ingredients

    According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), generic drugs are medications created to be the same as existing brand-name drugs in terms of:


    • Dosage
    • Strength
    • Safety
    • Quality
    • Intended use
    • Performance characteristics
    • Route of administration


    Brand-name drugs are medications sold by a pharmaceutical company under a specific name or trademark that is protected by a patent. Generic drugs contain the same active ingredients as their brand-name counterparts, ensuring equivalent efficacy and safety; because of this, they also have the same benefits and risks.


    Cost Difference

    The cost difference between generic and brand-name drugs can sometimes be quite significant. If you take a medication daily (or even several times per day), a brand-name drug might cost hundreds or thousands of dollars more per year than the generic version.


    Brand-name drugs are typically more expensive because they have much higher production costs, including research, development and marketing. In contrast, generic drugs are more affordable because they do not require the research and development of the brand-name drug. Additionally, generic drugs enter the marketplace after the brand-name drug's patent expires, which increases competition and leads to lower prices. You can realize this cost savings, for example, when shopping for Rite Aid brand products.


    FDA Approval and Standards

    Before being approved by the FDA, all drugs must undergo rigorous testing for safety and efficacy, regardless of whether they are branded or generic. While brand-name drugs hit the market first, generic drugs must also meet the same quality and safety standards as brand-name medicines. The FDA will not approve any drugs unless they are proven to be safe and effective.


    Appearance and Non-Active Ingredients

    Brand-name drugs are often recognizable by their unique color, shape and packaging, which are trademarked by their pharmaceutical company. Generic drugs have the same active ingredients as their brand-name counterparts, but they might look different. For instance, a brand-name drug may be a pink oval-shaped pill, while the generic version is white and circular.


    The most important part of a drug is its active ingredient(s). This is what the FDA is looking for when it determines whether a generic drug is as effective as a brand-name one. Despite having the same active ingredients, the inactive components may differ between the branded and generic, but these differences have no impact on the drug's safety or effectiveness.


    Interchangeability and Substitution

    According to the Federal Trade Commission, not all brand-name drugs have generic substitutes. New drugs are protected by patents, which generally last 17 years. During those 17 years of patent protection, there may not be any suitable generic substitutes for the brand-name drug. However, once the patent expires, other companies can seek approval for generic versions.


    Pharmacists can substitute a brand-name drug with its FDA-approved, less expensive generic counterpart under the generic substitution laws of the state in which they practice pharmacy. Substitution is not permitted if the prescriber specifies that the branded product must be dispensed.


    When it comes to interchangeability, the FDA has found that generic drugs can usually be substituted for brand-name drugs; but in some cases, safe switching between the products is not guaranteed. For instance, it might be possible that a patient is allergic to one of the inactive ingredients in a generic drug — so it would only be safe for them to use the brand-name version.


    Patient Preference and Trust

    Some patients prefer brand-name drugs because they have seen their commercials on TV or they may be familiar with the brand name from radio or magazine ads. They may trust the pharmaceutical company producing the brand-name drug or be more likely to buy a brand-name drug than one from an unfamiliar company.


    On the other hand, some consumers select generic because it's typically a safe and cost-effective option.


    The Choice Is Yours

    When debating your purchase of generic vs. brand-name drugs, remember that they differ primarily in terms of cost, appearance and inactive ingredients — but they share two important commonalities. Both have the same active components and undergo rigorous FDA testing. Once you understand these similarities and differences, you can make informed decisions based on your particular preferences, financial considerations and healthcare needs.


    Written by: Cassandra Brooklyn


    These articles are intended for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and are not intended to treat or cure any disease. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in these articles. Advances in medicine may cause this information to become outdated, invalid, or subject to debate. Professional opinions and interpretations of scientific literature may vary. Consult your healthcare professional before making changes to your diet, exercise or medication regimen.