Generic Drugs Q&A
What are generic drugs?
A generic drug is a chemically equivalent, lower-cost version of a name-brand drug. The generic version becomes available when the name-brand drug's patent protection expires, and it usually costs about half the price of the name-brand version.
All drugs have a generic name. When a pharmaceutical company develops a new drug, it gives the drug a generic, or chemical name. The company then gives the drug a brand name as part of its marketing plan.
Why do generic drugs cost less?
It's less expensive to make and sell generic drugs, which is reflected in a lower price. The makers of generics don't have to spend money on research and development, marketing and advertising. Advertising in particular has become a huge cost of doing business in the name-brand drug industry, and the cost is passed along to the consumer in the form of higher prices.
As for quality, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) makes sure that generic drugs are equivalent to brand name drugs. By equivalent, the FDA means that generics must contain the same active ingredients and work the same way in the body.
Why aren't all prescription drugs available in a generic version?
When a company develops a new drug and submits it for FDA approval, a 17-year patent is issued. A generic version cannot be manufactured until the 17-year patent expires.
Some drugs are on the market for only a few years before the generic is available. This is usually because the original testing period required by the FDA took many years. So, by the time the drug was approved, there were only a few years left on the patent.
Why do some generic drugs look different from their name-brand versions?
All drugs have inactive ingredients such as dyes, fillers and preservatives. These ingredients often determine the size, shape and color of the drug. Generic drugs may have different shapes, colors or packaging than their name-brand versions, but they are equally effective.
Why should I ask my doctor about generics?
With your doctor's approval, generics can be safely and effectively substituted for name-brand drugs. In addition, your co-payments will be lower on a generic drug, because generic drugs are less costly.