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Generic Drugs

What are generic drugs?

Many prescription and nonprescription drugs are available as generic and brand-name products. All brand-name and generic products are reviewed and approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before they go on the market. When a new drug is invented, it is protected by a patent. It is made by one company and is sold under a single brand name. After the patent period ends, other companies may sell their own version of the drug in generic form or under a new brand name.

A generic drug is the same as a brand-name drug in:

  • Dosage
  • Safety
  • Strength
  • Quality

Generic drugs look different from brand-name drugs. This is because trademark laws don’t allow generics to look exactly like brand-name drugs. Colors, shapes, flavors, and other inactive ingredients may be different. These differences may cause slightly different effects. For example, some brand-name drugs may be more easily absorbed by the body. Brand-name drugs may cause fewer or weaker side effects.

Never assume that a medicine looks different from the brand-name drug just because it is generic. Double-check with the pharmacist that you have the correct medicine before you leave the pharmacy.

What is the benefit of using generic drugs?

Generic drugs may cost less than brand-name drugs. Many insurance companies require that prescriptions be filled with a generic drug if one is available. However, not all medicines are available in a generic form.

Ask your provider or pharmacist if there is a generic form of your medicine and if it is right for you. If your healthcare provider thinks a generic drug is not the best choice for you, your provider will write “Don’t substitute” on your prescription. This lets your pharmacist know to only fill the prescription with a brand-name medicine. Depending on your health plan, you may have to pay more for the brand-name medicine.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-08-17
Last reviewed: 2013-07-14
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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