Are generic and brand name drugs different?

Tod Cooperman, MD
Health Education

Generic drugs can have 80-125% the amount of active drug you would get from the brand name drug, and they are regulated differently; most have similar effects, but it depends. Watch consumer healthcare expert Tod Cooperman, MD, explain these factors.

Generics are approved by the FDA and must demonstrate that they contain the same amount of active ingredients as the brand name product. However, generic products sometimes have different inactive ingredients. The inactive ingredients do not affect how well the active ingredients work and most patients do not notice a difference between the brand and different generic products. Some patients have reported noticing differences in how they respond to certain generic products. Discuss your concerns with your pharmacist when you pick up your prescription if you have any further concerns. They can advise you on the specific brand of generic that they use. You can also follow up with your doctor if you are concerned about how well your medicine is working for you.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that a generic drug have the same active ingredient and the same dose of that active ingredient as the brand-name version. The effectiveness, safety profile and method of administration (how it is taken, such as by mouth or injection) is also the same.

However, a generic drug does not need to contain the same inactive ingredients as the brand-name drug. A small amount of variation occurs from one batch of drugs to another, whether the drug is a generic or brand-name product. This variation does not affect the way the drug works or how safe it is.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
Give me a C! C! Give me an O! O! Give me an S! S! Give me a T! T! What does that spell? COST! Generic drugs are almost exactly the same as brand-name drugs, only less expensive for the same medications. By law, the generic version of a drug that is off patent protection needs to be identical, or “bioequivalent” (having the same effect in the body), as the brand-name drug (a drug that is no longer patent-protected we call “off patent”). It has to be the same in dosage, safety, strength, quality, performance: the whole kit and kaboodle.
Here’s why generic drugs don’t break your bank: Generic drugs become available when the patents for brand-name drugs expire (go “off patent”). Since drug companies that sell generics didn’t spend hoards of cash on research and marketing, they can make it and sell it for much less.
So ask your doc or pharmacist if there’s a generic form of your meds available, and save the extra dough for a family vacation, a much needed car or house repair, or even a delicious meal. 
Both generic and brand name drugs are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA requires the potency and amount of an active ingredient in a generic drug to be identical to its brand name equivalent. According to the FDA, and based on a study published in 2008 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, brand name cardiovascular drugs and generic drugs have identical therapeutic effects. However, physicians and patients often report otherwise based on personal experience with some drugs. Ultimately, the best advice is to consult with your doctor or other healthcare provider who prescribed the medicine and to together make a decision based on effectiveness, cost and potential risks.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.