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What's the difference between the brand name medicine and your store generic?

Updated on November 16, 2013
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Brandon practices as a community pharmacist in MN. He started as a pharmacy tech in 2003 and received his PharmD in 2011 from the U of M.

This hub is part of the series "Ask a pharmacist." For more helpful tips about using your pharmacy, visit my central hub.

Have you talked to your pharmacist about store generics?

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A father came to the pharmacy looking for allergy medicine for antacid medicine for himself, fiber powder for his wife, allergy medicine for his son, and a fever reducer for his baby girl. He notices that each product has a store generic next to it. He asks, "What is the difference between the brand name and store generic? How do I know what to get?"

The short answer

Store generics, regardless of which pharmacy you're in, are just as good as their brand alternatives almost all the time. All drug makers have to adhere to Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) when producing their products. Because of this, they are all very similar if not identical.

The biggest difference is what I call "features." These may be a dosing device included, a special packaging, or easy-to-swallow pills. While these don't affect how the medicine will work, these features might make it easier to take or give to a child, or just be nicer in general.

Also, be careful about store products that look like they are copying brands but really aren't. A store brand should always say "compare to..." or "similar to..." or something to that extent. If it doesn't, it's not the same. Always ask if you have questions.

The long answer

When any drug manufacturer makes their product, they have to adhere to Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP). This is a set of rules and regulations developed and enforced by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). There are standards of cleanliness and facility upkeep, but they also state that the drugs have to meet quality control standards to ensure that each dose is what it says it is. The same standards that brand manufacturers have to meet are enforced upon generic manufacturers, too.

Generic drug makers have to prove that their products match certain biochemical markers as their brand counterpart. This is true of prescription and generic medicine. The details are discussed here, but in general it means that the medicine will do the same thing in your body.

Since the medicine itself is the same, brand products often offer what I call "features," or things that they offer that generic drugs don't. These can be access to loyalty clubs or points, dosing tools or tricks, special packaging, unique delivery systems, exclusion of certain ingredients, and many others. These features are on a get-what-you-pay-for level, in that if think a certain feature is desirable then you just have to pay for it. While some of these features make a big differences to some people, most of the time I don't think they are good enough to base a decision on. But that comes down to each person. Your pharmacist is up-to-date on new products and can help you find exactly what you're looking for.

Let's summarize the differences

Store generic
More expensive
Less expensive
Price is a big factor, but don't compromise your families health for a few dollars. Be sure you get what you need.
Nifty features
Simple, plain products
Each person has their own idea of what is important. Find what you like.
Same at all pharmacies
Name and packaging differ by pharmacy
Be sure to compare active ingredients on the back to get the same product at different pharmacies
Access to loyalty programs, coupons, ect.
Access to store guarantees, discounts, etc.
Some pharmacies guarantee their products 100%, but they can't offer that on branded products

The biggest reason we even have pharmacy-specific generic products is cost. When a big brand drug manufacturer goes through the trouble of inventing and marketing a drug they have to charge more to recoup the money they spent on it. The system honors that by giving them exclusive rights to sales for a set number of years. But when that time is up, any company willing to meet FDA standards can produce the product. These other companies have much lower overhead and can sell their product much cheaper. The pharmacy passes on some of that savings to you.

A bit more on the topic

Every so often, and it's not as rare as it should be, products get recalled. Whether it's because they didn't meet safety standards or the FDA determined them to be unsafe, it's not a great feeling when a medicine you use isn't allowed to be sold anymore. Generic products do not get recalled more often then branded ones. While certain companies seem to be repeat offenders, big name drug makers put in the time and effort to avoid these problems (by and large). Whether your buying brand or generic products, it's always best to go with a reputable source.

In the end, it doesn't really matter what you paid for a product or who made it or where you bought it, it matters that it worked. The final test of any medication is to ask yourself, "did I benefit from taking this medicine?" If you have a product that works for you the way you want it to, stick with it. If you ever feel a need to switch (cost, availability, recalls, etc.) then be sure you pay attention to see if it works the same for you. If not, try another. As much as we try to keep medicine the same, the truth is that each batch can be different, each person's body is different, and each illness is different. It is far from one-size-fits-all and you have to be your own advocate.

The final word

Pharmacy-specific generic products are nearly always completely interchangeable with their brand counterparts. While there are some exceptions to this rule, your pharmacist can help you find the product that is right for you. You may even save a few dollars in the process. In the end, remember that the final test of any medicine is your experience with it. You know best.

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Brandon Y is a community pharmacist working in Minnesota with over 10 years of experience in pharmacy. He welcomes comments and questions. Find more great pharmacy tips here.


The information provided on this page is intended for general educational and informational use only. It is not specific, personalized healthcare advice for you. For healthcare advice regarding your particular situation, talk to members of your healthcare team. Contact this hubs author for more information.


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