Generic vs. name-brand medication: Do you really get what you pay for?

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Have you ever stood at a pharmacy shelf contemplating the difference between a brand-name or generic version of a drug Chances are, you’re not alone. On one hand, the generic version is half the price. But will you compromise quality by skipping over the brand-name medication? 

In short, no. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration strictly regulates the approval process that allows generic drug counterparts to hit store shelves. And FDA approval means the generic medication provides the same clinical benefits as its brand name counterpart.

Generic vs name-brand medication: what’s the difference?

  • Cost. Generic medications cost less than brand-name counterparts because those manufacturers don’t have to spend additional money on clinical studies and testing required by brand name manufacturers who first pioneered the new drug. This, along with marketplace competition, reduces costs for consumers. 
  • Packaging. Generic versions may not look as creatively-designed as their brand-name versions, but the FDA ensures consumers that this does not influence safety or effectiveness. 
  • Drug name. While big brand manufacturers tend to give medications simple names for marketing purposes, the generic versions earn their names from their active ingredients. Tylenol, for example, is sold in generic form as acetaminophen, its active ingredient. 
  • Pill appearance/inactive ingredients. U.S. trademark laws forbid generic drugs from looking identical to those already on the market. For this reason, a generic pill may be a different color or shape than its brand name counterpart. Additionally, generic and brand-name versions of the same medicine may differ in inactive ingredients such as colors or flavorings, but those differences don’t alter their effectiveness or clinical benefit.

How are generic medications made and approved?

Once a brand-name manufacturer’s patent expires, sole rights to sell the drug end along with it. This means that other manufacturers can apply to the FDA to sell generic versions of the brand-name drug—with strict regulations

In order to be FDA-approved, generic medications must be “bioequivalent” to their brand-name versions. While there may be up to a 20% variation, the article ingredients are essentially one in the same. Additionally, the manufacturing, packaging, and testing sites must pass the same standards of quality as those of brand-name companies.


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The contents of the above article are for informational and educational purposes only. The article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified clinician with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or its treatment and do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of information published by us.