Brand Name and Generic Medications

You may need to take medicines every day, or only once in a while. Either way, you want to make sure that the medicines are safe and will help you get better. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration is in charge of assuring the safety and effectiveness of both prescription and over-the-counter medicines.

Even safe drugs can cause unwanted side effects or interactions with food or other medicines you may be taking. They may not be safe during pregnancy. To reduce the risk of reactions and make sure that you get better, it is important for you to take your medicines correctly.

Understanding Generic Drugs

Generic drugs are important options that allow greater access to health care for all Americans. They are copies of brand-name drugs and are the same as those brand name drugs in dosage form, safety, strength, route of administration, quality, performance characteristics and intended use.

Health care professionals and consumers can be assured that FDA approved generic drug products have met the same rigid standards as the innovator drug. All generic drugs approved by FDA have the same high quality, strength, purity and stability as brand-name drugs. And, the generic manufacturing, packaging, and testing sites must pass the same quality standards as those of brand name drugs.

Generic Drugs: Questions and Answers

What are generic drugs?

A generic drug is identical—or bioequivalent—to a brand name drug in dosage form, safety, strength, route of administration, quality, performance characteristics and intended use. Although generic drugs are chemically identical to their branded counterparts, they are typically sold at substantial discounts from the branded price. According to the Congressional Budget Office, generic drugs save consumers an estimated $8 to $10 billion a year at retail pharmacies. Even more billions are saved when hospitals use generics.

Learning Activity: Generic equivalents for brand-name drug

  1. Find out if there is a generic equivalent for a brand-name drug that you or someone you know uses.
    • Use Drugs@FDA, a catalog of FDA-approved drug products, as well as drug labeling.
  2. You can also search for generic equivalents by using the “Electronic Orange Book.”
    • Search by proprietary “brand” name,” then search again by using the active ingredient name.
    • If other manufacturers are listed besides the “brand name” manufacturer when searching by the “active ingredient,” they are the generic product manufacturers.

Are generic drugs as effective as brand-name drugs?

Yes. A generic drug is the same as a brand-name drug in dosage, safety, strength, quality, the way it works, the way it is taken and the way it should be used.

FDA requires generic drugs have the same high quality, strength, purity and stability as brand-name drugs.

Not every brand-name drug has a generic drug. When new drugs are first made they have drug patents. Most drug patents are protected for 20 years. The patent, which protects the company that made the drug first, doesn’t allow anyone else to make and sell the drug. When the patent expires, other drug companies can start selling a generic version of the drug. But, first, they must test the drug and the FDA must approve it.

Creating a drug costs lots of money. Since generic drug makers do not develop a drug from scratch, the costs to bring the drug to market are less; therefore, generic drugs are usually less expensive than brand-name drugs. But, generic drug makers must show that their product performs in the same way as the brand-name drug.

How are generic drugs approved?

Drug companies must submit an abbreviated new drug application (ANDA) for approval to market a generic product. The Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Act of 1984, more commonly known as the Hatch-Waxman Act, made ANDAs possible by creating a compromise in the drug industry. Generic drug companies gained greater access to the market for prescription drugs, and innovator companies gained restoration of patent life of their products lost during FDA’s approval process.

New drugs, like other new products, are developed under patent protection. The patent protects the investment in the drug’s development by giving the company the sole right to sell the drug while the patent is in effect. When patents or other periods of exclusivity expire, manufacturers can apply to the FDA to sell generic versions.

The ANDA process does not require the drug sponsor to repeat costly animal and clinical research on ingredients or dosage forms already approved for safety and effectiveness. This applies to drugs first marketed after 1962.

What standards do generic drugs have to meet?

Health professionals and consumers can be assured that FDA approved generic drugs have met the same rigid standards as the innovator drug. To gain FDA approval, a generic drug must:

  • contain the same active ingredients as the innovator drug(inactive ingredients may vary)
  • be identical in strength, dosage form, and route of administration
  • have the same use indications
  • be bioequivalent
  • meet the same batch requirements for identity, strength, purity, and quality
  • be manufactured under the same strict standards of FDA’s good manufacturing practice regulations required for innovator products

Learning Activity

Watch this brief video, The Over-the-Counter Drug Facts Label video, about how to safely use an over-the-counter medicine:

  • Why is it important to follow the label’s information?

Watch this video titled Avoid Drug Interactions:

Get helpful tips to avoid the three main types of interactions: drugs with food and beverages, drugs with dietary supplements, and drugs with other drugs: