Generic Medications - PIH Health

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Published on June 03, 2016

Are Generic Medications Really the Same as Brand Name Medications?

Generic Drugs

Generic DrugsMany years ago, all generic products in the drug store were in one aisle, and they all had basic white labels with black writing. But that’s not the case anymore. Generic products - from toilet paper to over-the-counter (OTC) medications - now have colorful, attractive labels, and they live on the shelf right next to the products they’re copying, so you can compare the ingredients and prices.

“When it comes to OTC medications, there are benefits of purchasing a generic option,” said Jacquelyn Cituk, Executive Director of Enterprise Pharmacy Services at PIH Health. “The prices are much more affordable and in many cases just a fraction of what you would pay for a brand name medication! Since active ingredients of the generic medication are the same to a brand name medication you’re basically getting the same medication which has the same effectiveness and side effect profile. This is also true for prescription medications.” However, Jacquie cautions patients getting generic medications when they are prescribed a medication which requires routine labs monitoring levels (i.e. warfarin, levothyroxine). In these instances, she recommends the brand name medication to ensure there is no variability in lab results due to changing between multiple generic manufacturers.

However, just because the active ingredient for 200 mg of over-the-counter ibuprofen is the same in Advil and the Ralph’s equivalent, what about the inactive ingredients? Pill coatings? Binding agents? Can these things affect the way your body absorbs the medication you’re taking?

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the answer is no. “Health care professionals and consumers can be assured that FDA approved generic drug products have met the same rigid standards as the innovator drug. All generic drugs approved by the FDA have the same high quality, strength, purity and stability as brand name drugs. And the generic manufacturing, packaging and testing sites must pass the same quality standards as those of brand name drugs.”1

Not everyone agrees though. A 2008 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reviewed 43 editorials that had been published in peer-reviewed healthcare journals between 1975 and 2008 concerning generic substitutions for branded cardiovascular disease medications. They found that 53 percent of the editorials expressed a negative view toward generics.

Nevertheless, those fears are probably unfounded. In actuality, the differences between generic and brand name medications are so minor, it’s not worth the worry. A 2009 FDA study showed that of 2,070 orally administered generic medications approved by the agency between 1996 to 2007, generics differ from brand names, on average, by about 3.5 percent. For a vast majority of us, these differences are not significant enough to make any difference at all.

Today, nearly eight in ten prescriptions filled in the U.S. are for a generic medication. Sixty-seven percent of Americans take generic medication, and many studies have shown them to be just as effective as brand name medications.

1, “Understanding Generic Drugs,” 08.06.14,

The information in Healthy Living Online is for educational purposes only.  It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.  The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation, or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.

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