The Definitive Guide: What to Know About Generics vs. Brand Name Drugs

Posted March 22, 2015

We answer the most commonly asked questions about brand name vs. generic medications.

Q: Are generics as effective as brand name drugs?

A: Generics are just as effective and just as safe as their brand name counterparts.

While drugs in general will vary in side effects and effectiveness from person to person, they have the same efficacy because the active ingredients are nearly identical.

When a generic is manufactured, it has to meet FDA standards that indicate it is the bioequivalent of its brand name counterpart. “The FDA will test the brand name drugs and the generic drug, in say two different people, and then they will measure the blood levels of the drug in those two people. This is done to determine that both entities, the brand name and the generic, deliver the same amount of active ingredient into a patient’s bloodstream, in the same amount of time,” explains Sue Paul, RPh, a Pharmacist with more than 20 years of experience. Sue is also the founder of SyneRxgy Consulting, a dedicated group of pharmacists that educate and facilitate awareness among patients regarding all their medications.

Because the active ingredients are the same, you can expect side effects to also be the same. “Personally, as a Pharmacist, I only take generic drugs when available because I know they are the same,” says Sue.

Q: Why are generics cheaper than brand name drugs?

A: It’s true that generics typically cost 80-85 percent less than brand name medications.

This disparity in cost stems from the large amount of money and time a brand name manufacturer spends on R&D during any given drug’s development. Additionally, there are typically many trials—many of which can fail—making the manufacturing process costly. Sales and marketing take place when a new drug is introduced to the marketplace, resulting in even greater costs being passed on to the consumer.

When a drug’s patent is up (after somewhere between 7-20 years), the market opens up and generic manufacturers are able to reproduce the existing recipe. Not only do they not have the up-front marketing costs the original manufacturer incurred, but many insurance companies actually require pharmacists to dispense the generic, if available.

“Over time, there are multiple generic manufacturers of the same medication, which creates competition and drives the price down,” explains Sue.

Q: If I have a certain food allergy/sensitivity, what else should I know before choosing a brand name versus a generic?

A: To answer this question fully, it’s important to know the difference that does exist between varying generics, and between a generic and a brand name counterpart: the fillers, or the inactive ingredients.

If someone has a special food sensitivity or allergy, they might want to look closer at the manufacturer, as well as the inactive ingredients. This is something a pharmacist can assist a caregiver with.

“I actually had a Mom last week who has a child with a gluten allergy, and we looked into the drug manufacturers to determine which manufacturers could guarantee gluten-free product,” says Sue. Because fillers are often made from varying starch sources or dyes, additional research is sometimes required by consumer or caregiver. As in this case, manufacturers may have different fillers or different processes for production.

Q: What should I ask my care provider/clinician before starting a medication?

A: First, clarify the medication name: both brand name and generic versions.

“I’ve had a couple of instances where a patient was taking both the generic and brand name versions,” says Sue.

Know what the medication is used for. Know how often you are supposed to take it, making sure you understand how/when doses are taken throughout any given day.

Ask about food and drink interactions. You should also know how a medication may react with other medications, especially OTC medications/drugs. Telling your pharmacist what OTC medications are being taken is important because many times medications in order to determine if potential interactions exist.

Ask your pharmacist what the side effects could be, or what to look for. Even if those side effects are unlikely or rare, you want to be educated and informed for you or your loved ones.

Know how long you need to take the medication, and any information related to refills.

Never be afraid of calling a pharmacist if you have a question. Sometimes we can’t plan for questions that might come up, such as: what should I do if I missed a dose? Or, how should I store my medication?

Sue Paul, RPh, is founder of SyneRxgy Consulting, LLC. Synerxgy Consulting wants to be your personal pharmacist. SyneRxgy’s mission is to improve the health and wellness of any patient taking prescribed medications. As an advocate for the patient in an over medicated America, Synerxgy Consulting provides guidance through awareness of drug interactions, side effects, the importance of a healthy lifestyle, and lower cost alternatives when available.

For more information on SyneRxgy Consulting, please visit www.synerxgy.com or contact Sue Paul, RPh, at 513-227-8337.