What’s the Difference Between a Brand-Name Drug and a Generic Drug?

You visit your doctor, and they write you a prescription for a brand-name medication. You take the prescription to the pharmacist, and they tell you there’s a generic version of the drug available. Which one should you choose? In many cases, the generic may be the better choice. But not 100% of the time. 

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Do generic drugs work the same way as brand-name drugs?

Some people hear “generic” and think of generic cereals that taste funny or get soggy too soon. They often don’t stack up against the original and are usually considered “knock-offs.” Generic drugs are different. 

Generics are made to work the same way as brand-name drugs. They have the same active ingredient and are the same as brand-name medications when it comes to:

  • Quality
  • Dosage (how much and how often you take it)
  • Strength
  • Route of administration (how you take it)

For example, amphetamine salt combo is the generic version of Adderall, a medication used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. These 2 prescription drugs are available in the same strengths, are prescribed in the same quantities, and have the same instructions for how to take them. The same is true for metformin, the generic version of Glucophage, a drug used to treat type 2 diabetes.

Are generic drugs less effective?

No. Generic medications are just as effective as brand-name drugs. According to the FDA, drug makers must prove that generic medications can be substituted for brand-name drugs and offer the same benefits as their brand-name counterparts. 

In other words, in many cases, you can swap a generic drug for a brand-name one and get the same effect—unlike those generic Frosted Flakes.

Why do brand-name drugs cost more than generics?

There are a few reasons for this.

First, the manufacturers of brand-name medications have to conduct tests, known as clinical trials, to prove that their drug is safe and works the way it’s supposed to. These tests are expensive, and manufacturers pass on some of these costs to the consumer. 

Second, while a brand-name drug is only sold by one manufacturer, several companies will usually sell the same generic drug, which leads to competition in the marketplace and lower costs for consumers.