Prescription Drugs, Your Health & Wellness

What’s In A Name? Brand Name vs. Generic

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Have you ever wondered what the differences are between generic and brand name drugs? Do generic drugs work as well? Why are generic prescription and Over the Counter (OTC) medications cheaper than branded ones?

Brand Name Drugs

A brand name medication is the original product developed and researched by the manufacturing drug company. Before a new medication can go on the market—whether it’s an antibiotic, heartburn tablet or other medicine—the drug company has to put it through rigorous testing to prove that the drug is effective and safe for human use. This can be a long and expensive process. Some drugs are in testing for years or even decades before getting approved. Once testing is complete, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will award a patent to the company. This gives the company the exclusive rights to produce and sell the drug under their brand name until the patent expires. Once the company has the patent, they have to promote the product through advertising, which adds to the company’s costs.

Generic Drugs

When the patent expires, other companies can develop a generic version of the drug for the market. A generic drug contains the same active ingredient as the brand name drug, and the generic is often marketed under the name of the active ingredient (i.e., acetaminophen, the generic of Tylenol). However, a generic drug may contain different inactive ingredients. Inactive ingredients are used to help provide the drug to the consumer in a form that is stable and useable. For example, the flavored syrup used to make children’s Benadryl is considered an inactive ingredient. You can find the active and inactive ingredients on the drug container’s “Drug Facts” label.

ScriptSave WellRx - benadryl label image

Instead of testing to prove efficacy and safety (since this has already been proven), the generic drug company must perform tests to prove the generic drug is equal in strength, quality, purity, and potency to the brand name drug version. The generic has to be proven to be bioequivalent – meaning it achieves the same levels in the blood and provides the same effect in the body as the original brand name product. Testing for these equivalents usually takes less time to complete and is less expensive than the original research on the brand name medication. Also, generic drug companies don’t usually spend money on advertising their product. This is why generic drugs cost less than brand name drugs.

So, what’s in a name? In short – marketing and costs. On average, a generic drug is 80 to 85% less expensive than the brand name product. Rigorous testing on both products assures equal quality despite the name and price difference. A generic drug will work just as effectively as a brand name product, but will have less of an impact on your pocketbook, making it a great solution for budget-conscious shoppers.


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** Average and up-to savings percentages are based on all discounted prescriptions that were run through the WellRx program in 2018. Discount percentages represent savings provided off of pharmacies’ retail prices for consumers who do not have a discount program and pay cash.

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