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The Truth about Generic OTC Medications

Updated on September 13, 2012

Over-the-counter (OTC) generic medications are just as effective and cost much less to buy than brand names.

Perhaps you’ve heard of brand name medications like Tylenol, Benadryl, or Sudafed. The manufacturers of these brands have spent millions of advertising dollars to make sure that you do. Chances are you haven’t heard of acetaminophen, diphenhydramine, or pseudoepinephrine. These are the generic versions of those brands, and they are so low in price that no one would market them and expect a return in investment.

How Corporations Invent Brands

A corporation, such as Johnson & Johnson, buys a license to sell a generic medication, like “acetaminophen,” and acquires the right to market it under their brand name “Tylenol.” Investing millions of dollars for advertising, their brand now costs about $8 for 100 tablets. The generic version, acetaminophen, sells for about $8 for 225 tablets. The increased costs have to make up for the dollars spent on the marketing dollars. The brand “Advil”, costs about $4 for a count of 24 tablets. The generic version is “ibuprofen”, and costs $7 for a count of 500 tablets.

Hospitals use Generic Versions

Most hospitals dispense the most affordable medications for patients, and rarely will you find a brand name medication in their pharmacy. If physicians order a brand name medication, they must give a good reason to get it approved by the pharmacy policy. However, the makers of Tylenol offer their brand to hospitals at a very low price. This gives them a good selling point in their commercials as they boast Tylenol is the one hospitals use the most.

Brand Names and Silly Games

Look at the ingredients on the different brand names and you'll be surprised how they aren't any different from each other. For example, Excedrin tablets and Excedrin Migraine tablets have the exact same ingredients, even the same amount of ingredients. The company changes the name so you think it's more effective than the other. Both brands of Excedrin's ingredients are aspirin, acetaminophen, and caffeine.

Generic Brands Have the Same Quality

The production and manufacturers of medications, brand names and generic forms, must go through strict requirements and are subject to the same safety inspections by government regulations. The quality is standard in all manufactured medications. Many brand name manufacturers, such as Johnson & Johnson, also distribute the generic form of their medications.

Generic Costs vs Brand Names
Generic Costs vs Brand Names | Source

Be an Educated Consumer

Write down the generic name from the list on this page and take it to the drug store. Check the ingredients on the brand names and compare with the generic. You will find little difference—if any.

Buy the generic name version of the medication for much savings. Don't let the long names intimidate you; everything listed on this page is sold in the drug store by the generic name. It will be printed on the box. Ask the pharmacist to help you find it.

Always compare the labels of generics and brand names, just to be sure the dosage is the same. Generic medications will label strength and dosage just like brand names. Generic antacids may vary in strength compared to your usual brand name, so check the label.

Ask Your Doctor About Prescription Medications

If you get a prescription from your health care provider, always ask for the generic brand. Most of the time this is safe and effective, however, some brand name medications do work better in some rare instances. Be sure to discuss this at the time of your visit.


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    • Mmargie1966 profile image

      Mmargie1966 5 years ago from Gainesville, GA

      This is a terrific hub! I'm definitely going to share this!

    • eHealer profile image

      Deborah 5 years ago from Las Vegas

      Thanks Ripplemaker, I can't believe I'm nominated for another Hubby! I have my speech all ready, just in case. Lol. Thanks for your support and interesting comments. Thank you for your Congrats as well.

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      If I need an anti-inflammatory medicine, yes, I do buy mefenamic acid --just the generic one. It's really cheaper. Thanks for sharing this hub and info. This is helpful. :)

      Ripplemaker's Special News: Congratulations on your Hubnuggets nomination. Do visit this link to see your nominated hub in the Education and Science category. Don't forget to read and vote okay? Cheers!

    • ib radmasters profile image

      ib radmasters 5 years ago from Southern California


      Aw shucks...

    • eHealer profile image

      Deborah 5 years ago from Las Vegas

      Thanks ib for the supportive comments. I want to share with people that brand names are about the "name" and not about the ingredients. Most are the same, with "propaganda" about how dangerous or unsafe the generics are, which is not true. Big Pharma companies want you to purchase their brands. Thanks ib, you are too cool, and so right.

    • ib radmasters profile image

      ib radmasters 5 years ago from Southern California


      All the big chain stores have their own chain brand, from Walmart to Costco, and the drug stores etc.

      I agree with you that brand identification is important to many consumers. When it comes to buying Advil versus the generic store brand, I think that the majority of people are under the impression that there is a quality difference between them.

      Advil is assumed to have a higher quality of Ibuprofen than the generic. They are most likely manufactured at the same facility as the generic, and packaged differently.

      Other than the quality issue, they use the same ingredient(s).

      As for Advil versus generic brands, I use the generic brands, and the ones with the best coupon deals.

      I have found no difference in these products. Have a headache, take the Ibuprofen and the headache goes away. That is the test.

      Now if there is a real quality issue that could cause a dangerous product, then that would be a real concern.


    • eHealer profile image

      Deborah 5 years ago from Las Vegas

      Hi Lotus, you are so write! I am so tired of brand names exploiting people with false promises and trumped up prices. People are catching on though, most of the brand manufacturers have begun campaigns on selling generics as well.

    • Green Lotus profile image

      Hillary 5 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      This is wise information clearly stated." Medications" is a subject that always has me thinking and writing :) Thanks! Rated Up and Useful!