Generic Vs. Brand Name Drugs

Drugs are made using specific “active” ingredients. By “active”, we mean that these are the ingredients that actually do some work in the body such as combating a bacteria (e.g., an antibiotic), or regulating some organ function (e.g., a diuretic).

The same medications have other ingredients in them as well that are not considered to be “active” because they do not perform work in the body. These inactive ingredients are used for other purposes. For instance, different dyes to change the pill’s color, reagents to make the product fall within a certain pH level, etc. These ingredients supposedly have no effect on the person – only on the formulation, making it easier to swallow, or better tasting, or to just plain look better.

Brand name medications and generic medications contain exactly the same ACTIVE ingredients. The generic medication is generally less expensive than the brand name medication. Why?

That’s where economics comes into play. The brand name medication has been on the market many years before the generic medication and has enjoyed a head-start on making money for the manufacturer. BUT, since the brand name came out FIRST, the manufacturer had to INVEST a great deal of research time and money with clinical trials and formulation studies before they could put the medication up for review to a group of scientists at the Food & Drug Administration (FDA).

Once the brand name medication is placed for review to the FDA, the scientists at this agency then determine whether or not all those studies and research on the safety and efficacy of the medication in question meets the criteria to let it get to the public.

The FDA’s job is to judge how safe and how effective the medication is based on those studies. It also costs the brand name manufacturer’s a heaping amount of money to submit those documents for review. All in ths hope that the future will bring the profits from this medication to both pay off their initial investment and to produce big money afterwards. They then get a patent for the drug which prohibits other manufacturers to make the same drug for a given period of time (usually 17 years).

When the patent rights expire, other manufactuers are then free to develop the drug WITHOUT any further studies. These are the generic companies and they do not need to perform clinical trials or to invest money into research and development procedures. This is the biggest reason WHY generic drugs are cheaper.

Theoretically, there is no difference between the brand-name and generic product. However, often different inactive ingredients are used in the formulations that can affect the generic medication’s dissolvability (which would ultimately affect how fast the medicine works), color (which could have various allergic responses in different people), taste, etc.

In sum, generic medications are cheaper for a reason. But, these reasons may not be enough to warrant paying more for a specific medication. It is possible for different people to react differently to the brand-name medication versus the generic medication. In that case, a switch may be all that is needed to correct the situation, with a resulting change in the price of the pill.

Although the quality assurance is less stringent for generic medications, most formulations meet the equivalency criteria between the generic and brand-name med. These formulations should show no difference between itself and the brand name. However, this is not always the case, and the generic ends up being of poorer quality and does not work as well. In those cases, the cheaper pill is not a bargain, afterall, and a switch to a different generic manufacturer or a brand-name pharmaceutical is in order.

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