When you come to a pharmacy to buy an over-the-counter solution or get your prescription filled, you are likely to discover that generic medications appear significantly cheaper than their branded counterparts. Generic drugs are very tempting to purchase for the sake of obvious savings, but many consumers refrain from doing so because they worry that a lower price of a generic drug means nothing else but poor quality or ineffectiveness. So, the question is: which medicine, original or generic, is better to treat your condition?

What are generics?

When people hear the term “generic drug”, they think that is all about a drug that is non-official, subpar or even a knock-off. But this is far from being true.

Generic drugs are designed to have the same therapeutic effect as brand medications. Generics contain the same active substance as found in brand-name preparations and are equal to the originals in terms of quality, strength, posology, and method of administration.

For instance, Sildenafil Citrate is a generic alternative of brand-name Viagra, an oral medication used to treat erectile dysfunction. Both medicaments are available in the same strengths, prescribed in the same dosages, and have identical instructions as well as warnings, precautions, and contraindications for how to take them.

Are generics worse than originals?

Certainly, not. Generic drugs are as effective as branded ones. The USA FDA obliges generic drug manufacturers to prove that their products are appropriate substitutions for brand-name medicines and can produce the same therapeutic benefits as their genuine counterparts. It means that you can safely use a generic drug instead of the brand-name and get the same effect.

This poses the question: why are brand-name drugs much more expensive than their generic equivalents?

The reason is obvious.

The matter is that the makers of branded drugs have to run a galore of clinical trials to validate the safety and effectiveness of a newly-invented medication. Conducting this investigation as well as running an aggressive marketing campaign is fiendishly expensive, and drug-makers have to set quite a dear price for their product to recover huge expenditures.

Similarly, a brand medicine is only sold by one maker while generics can be produced by numerous pharmaceutical manufacturers, which expectedly leads to heavy competition at the market and results in a lower cost of generics for final customers. A curious fact, according to FDA, generics may cost up to 85% less than their branded predecessors.

Is it difficult to tell generics from original drugs?

If your doctor gives you a prescription, but your pharmacist offers you a cheaper analog, stay relaxed and don’t worry about going wrong. It is very easy to distinguish generics from originals.

The trademark legislation obliges the manufacturers of generics to produce drugs that are visually different from brand-name medicines. In most cases, the generic drug will be sold under the name of its active substance, such as ibuprofen (the generic substitute for Nurofen, a famous painkiller).

Along with the name, generics differ from brand medications by shape, color, inactive ingredients content, packing, and flavors. Nevertheless, these differences do not determine the effectiveness and safety of a generic since the key agent remains the same both in an original drug and its generic modification.

Are generics safe?

Despite generic producers do not have to conduct expensive clinical trials, their performance is strictly regulated by authorities and is subject to rigorous quality-control reviews before they are allowed to bring their generic product to the market.

The FDA scrupulously checks generic drugs to make sure they deliver the same therapeutic benefits as brand medications and the additives used in the generic’s composition are safe, too. The FDA approves only those generics which completely meet all the requirements for security and effectiveness.

If consumers report issues about taking this or that generic drug, the regulator will arrange an inspection of the manufacturer’s facilities and conduct an investigation to see whether there are improprieties in the production process. And if any are found, the producer will be strictly punished.

When is it better to choose a branded drug over a generic?

Why should you pay more if there is no difference in the safety and effectiveness between two drugs?

Still, there are cases when the use of generic drugs is out of the question:

  • When branded medications simply do not have generic alternatives. There are lots of brand-name medicaments which still do not have generic alternatives, (such as Premarin, a medication used in the hormonal therapy of menopause), and seeking for a generic may simply lead to very bad consequences.
  • When switching between generic and brand drugs poses some risk for health. For instance, if your doctor prescribes you to take a brand-name narrow therapeutic index medication (like Warfarin, Levothyroxine or Digitoxin), you’d better stick to the brand. The thing is that in narrow therapeutic index drugs, even the tiniest changes in dose or blood concentration may cause persistent, irreversible or life-threatening side effects — why on earth should you expose yourself to such a risk?

When a generic counterpart simply does not work well on you. Some patients may be allergic to certain additive components found in a generic drug and which are missing in the brand-name original.