What is a generic drug?

A generic medicine is identical (or bioequivalent) to a brand name drug in its use, dosage, strength, efficacy and safety. For a generic drug to be approved, it must meet the same quality standards as the branded product. Even generic manufacturing, testing sites and packaging must meet the same standards. Many generics are produced in the same plant as their brand counterparts.

Are generics as effective as the brand?

Yes. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires generic drugs to have the same active ingredient, the same strength, the same dosage form and the same route of administration as the branded product. The FDA ensures this through extensive testing and revision of bioequivalence data.

So how exactly does a generic drug differ from a brand?

The primary difference between a generic drug and a branded drug is its price. Most of the generic drugs cost between 70% and 90% less than the branded drug, saving consumers between $ 7 and $ 9 billion a year in pharmacies. Billions more are saved by hospitals using generics. A generic drug may also differ from a brand in color, packaging or form but these differences only affect the appearance of the drug, not its operation.

Why are generics cheaper?

Brand drugs are expensive because they have no competition to lower their prices. But when patents on branded drugs expire, other manufacturers may ask the FDA to sell generic versions. Since generic companies are not required to repeat expensive clinical trials and generally do not incur marketing, advertising and promotional costs, they are able to sell their product at a much lower price. At the same time, companies that manufacture brand-name drugs have often spent huge amounts of money on advertising, research & development, and have to price their drugs at a price high enough to recover their expenses and make a profit. In addition, the fact that several companies manufacture generic versions of a drug creates competition in the market, which further lowers prices. These savings are passed on to you, the consumer, in the form of lower cost.

How do I get generic drugs? Will my doctor prescribe them?

Generic substitution laws in the United States vary from state to state. Some state pharmacy boards have instituted mandatory generic substitution laws, under which pharmacists will substitute a generic drug, if applicable, for a brand name drug. Some states require the patient’s consent before substituting a generic for a brand. Thus, the generic version of the prescribed medicine can be issued automatically, or only with your permission or if you ask for it. Private and public insurance companies often encourage the use of generic drugs to the extent possible to reduce costs. In addition, doctors are more likely to prescribe generic version because they want their patients to have drugs as safe and effective as branded drugs, but they are more affordable.

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Facts about Generic Drugs, U.S. Food and Drug Administration:

Generic Drugs: Questions and Answers, U.S. Food and Drug Administration:

Peter R. Kongstvedt, Essentials of Managed Healthcare, 6th Edition, Jones & Bartlett Publishers, 2012, pg 267

Generic Drugs: Same Medicine, Lower Cost, U.S. Food and Drug Administration:

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