Generic vs. name-brand medications: Five frequently asked questions about generic drugs

Physicians and pharmacists are often asked, ‘Should I take name-brand or generic medications?’ The answer is typically generic. 

Erica Merritt, Clinical Pharmacy Specialist of Emergency Medicine in the Candler Emergency Department
Erica Merritt, Clinical Pharmacy Specialist of Emergency Medicine in the Candler Emergency Department

Today, nearly eight out of 10 prescriptions filled in the United States are for generic medicines, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. On average, the cost of a generic drug is 80 to 85 percent lower than the brand-name equivalent. Generic drugs save consumers an estimated $8 to $10 billion a year at retail pharmacies, according to the Congressional Budget Office, and even more billions are saved when hospitals use generics.

At St. Joseph’s/Candler, generic medications are given and prescribed to patients as long as generic is available. A committee researches and approves use of generics if the generic medicine has proven to be equivalent to and just as effective as the brand.

“The big take home is generics do not mean less effective or lower quality,” says Erica Merritt, Clinical Pharmacy Specialist of Emergency Medicine in the Candler Emergency Department. “I think it’s a stigma some people have about generic drugs. Just because it’s a generic doesn’t mean that it’s not good. The FDA monitors these drugs.”

Here are five frequently asked questions about generic medications:

1. What are generic medications?
A generic medication is identical – or bioequivalent – to a brand-name drug in:

  • dosage form
  • safety
  • strength
  • route of administration
  • quality
  • performance characteristics
  • intended use

Generally when medications first become available, they are name-brand, says Merritt. When new drugs are first made they have drug patents, which are protected up to 20 years. Once the medication goes off patent, other companies can develop a generic version, which still must be tested and receive FDA approval before hitting the market.

2. Are generic drugs as effective as name brand?
Yes because the active ingredients have to be exactly the same, Merritt says. The FDA requires generic drugs have the same high quality, strength, purity and stability as the brand-name medicine.

3. What standards do generic medications have to meet to become FDA approved?
Consumers can be assured generic drugs meet the same rigorous standards as the initial name-brand medication. According to the FDA website, to meet FDA approval, a generic drug must:

  • Contain the same active ingredients as the innovator drug
  • Be identical in strength, dosage form and route of administration
  • Have the same use indications
  • Be bioequivalent
  • Meet the same batch requirements for identity, strength, purity and quality
  • Be manufactured under the same strict standards of FDA’s good manufacturing practice regulations required for innovator products

4. Are there any differences between generic and name-brand medications?
There are two main differences between generic and name-brand: inactive ingredients and price, Merritt says. The inactive ingredients do not affect the action of the active ingredients. Inactive ingredients, such as dye, are added during the manufacturing process and impact color and shape, for example. Secondly, the price of generic medicines is noticeably lower than name-brands. Merritt says this is because generic companies do not have costs associated with developing the drug from scratch. Also, generic companies do not pay for costly advertising, marketing and promotion.

5. How do I know which is right for me?
Merritt is often asked, ‘Should I take the brand or the generic?’ Her response is always that the generic is fine because the active ingredients are the same and the cost saving is huge.  Generally when a prescription is written for a medication that has a generic available, it will be filled with a generic. The physician can indicate on the prescription that brand is necessary. A brand-name medication may be prescribed when it’s the only medication available or it’s the patient’s preference. Merritt advises to have a discussion with your doctor or pharmacist regarding any questions you have about medications.


Want more advice from Merritt? Read other blog posts:



  • St. Joseph's Hospital Campus: 11705 Mercy Blvd., Savannah, GA 31419, (p) 912-819-4100
  • Candler Hospital Campus: 5353 Reynolds St., Savannah, GA 31405, (p) 912-819-6000
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