Brand vs Generic

What is the difference between brand-name drugs and generics?

When scientists find out a new medicine, they give it a generic name that reflects its chemical content. When this medicine becomes approved by FDA, the company which found it out gives this medication a new brand (trade) name, which is usually shorter and easier to remember for the customer. A drug company can hold exclusive patent rights to make a drug for 20 years after its discovery. After this time pass, other companies start making generic versions of the drug. Therefore, generic means that the medication has the same content as brand, only name differs. As time passes, scientists can improve the formula of the medicine. Some generic medications are even better than brands.

Are generic drugs safe?

Generics always work as good as brands. However, they cost much less because companies that manufacture generics didn’t spend anything on the research to find it out, they spread all their money on quality of manufacturing their medication. Many insurance plans encourage you to accept the generic version of a drug whenever it's medically safe. Most states let pharmacists substitute a generic when appropriate and when your doctor approves it.

When shouldn't generics be substituted for brand-name drugs?

There is a small list of medications generics and brands of which are not equal in action. This is also called "narrow therapeutic index," meaning that you can’t switch from brand to generic or vice versa because of side effects. These medications include:

  • phenytoin (brand name Dilantin),
  • carbamazepine (Tegretol),
  • valproic acid (Depakene),
  • divalproex sodium (Depakote),
  • digoxin (Lanoxin),
  • warfarin (Coumadin),
  • lithium (Lithobid, Eskalith),
  • levothyroxine (Synthroid, Levoxyl),
  • theophylline (Theo-Dur).

If you have to take these medications the choice between brands and generics should be done only by doctor's approval and close supervision. Always talk to your doctor, pharmacist, or both before asking for a substitute.