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Generic Prescription Drugs vs Brand Name Prescription Drugs

Updated on September 28, 2012

Brand name prescription drugs

Brand name prescription drugs are sold by the original company that developed and tested the drug. Once the drug is approved by the FDA for use the company then markets the drug but with a more consumer friendly name. For example Vicodin is the brand name given to the drug Hydrocodone/APAP. This brand name is easier for people to remember and used in advertising.

Generic prescription drugs

When a company first develops a drug it files a patent on the drug that can last for years. It also files a trademark on the consumer friendly name that it markets the drug under. Once the patent for the drug expires other companies can then ask permission from the FDA to produce equivalent drugs and market them. But the trademark doesn't expire, so a company that produces and sells generic Hydrocodone/APAP can never refer to their drug as Vicodin. Instead they call it a generic equivalent. Generic prescription drugs always use the same active ingredient as the brand name drugs, however the inactive ingredients can be different. For example if a brand name drug tablet comes with a sugar coating out the outside the generic equivalent is not required to have the sugar coating.

FDA requirements

FDA requires that generic equivalents have the same active ingredients, work the same way, act just as effectively, and be equally as safe. Generic equivalent prescription drugs must look different than the brand name prescription drugs. Any color, markings, or even shape that are symbolic of the brand name prescription drug can't be used on the generic prescription drug. For example, a generic equivalent for Viagra may not be they familiar blue color.


Brand name prescription drugs cost much more than generics because the development and testing of the drugs can be extremely expensive and take many years. In order to make their money back they are the only ones allowed to advertise to the general public. They use this advertising to drill into our heads the brand name they have developed so that when we go to the doctor that is the only name we want to see on our prescription form. Since generic prescription drugs are just copies of the brand name prescription drug they don't have to do any of the testing or development and can be sold for much less. Generic prescription drugs are heavily favored by health insurance companies because they are required to pay less to the pharmacy. The pharmacies also like generics because even though the cost to the consumer is less the profit margin is higher.

Are generic prescription drugs and brand name prescription drugs the same?

Pharmacist are not allowed by the FDA to say they are the same since the inactive ingredients may be different. They are allowed to say that the active ingredient is the same, and thus the effects will be the same. Many people feel that the generic prescription drugs are the same as buying the off brand or store brand. But since the generic prescription drugs are required by law to work just as effectively there really is no difference in quality.


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