Ask an Expert: What is the difference between Generic and Brand Name drugs?
In our new “Ask an Expert” Blog Series, Ken Majkowski, Pharm.D and Chief Pharmacy Officer at FamilyWize, addresses some of the most common questions consumers have when it comes to prescription drugs and drug costs. Ken brings more than 40 years of healthcare experience to the FamilyWize team, including 14 years of clinical pharmacy experience in retail, hospital, and home care. Read his full bio here.
Patients are often unsure about the differences between generic drugs and brand name drugs. Let’s address the basics.
First and foremost, it is important to understand that brand name drugs have a generic name as well. When a brand name drug goes off patent, another manufacturer can make a generic equivalent of that drug. There are also therapeutic equivalent drugs, which are made of different chemicals, but work similarly to each other.
For example, Lipitor is a heavily advertised drug used to treat high cholesterol. Lipitor is the drug’s brand name.
Atorvastatin (a TOR vas ta tin) is the generic name. Since Lipitor lost its patent, several other drug companies now make a generic equivalent of Lipitor. That means the FDA requires the generic equivalent to have the same active ingredient, strength, dosage form, and route of administration as the brand name product. They are almost identical (other than possibly some inactive ingredients). Generic Atorvastatin has been proven to be bioequivalent to Lipitor and should work just as well as the brand name product.
Mevacor, on the other hand, does not have a generic equivalent. It is considered to be a therapeutic equivalent of Lipitor. A therapeutic equivalent drug may be in the same class of drugs and may treat the same condition in much the same way, but it is made up of different chemicals.
Why does this distinction matter? When you give your pharmacist a prescription written by your doctor, it is considered both safe and legal for your pharmacist to dispense a generic equivalent drug for the brand name drug named on the prescription (**unless your doctor specifically says not to**). And that is a good thing, because sometimes the cost of a generic equivalent drug is 80 to 85 percent lower than the brand name product. So you will get a product that is proven to work just as effectively as the brand name drug for significantly less money.
However, your pharmacist cannot dispense a therapeutically equivalent drug in place of a brand name drug. Using our example, if you have a prescription for Lipitor, your pharmacist may offer you generic Atorvastatin, but you would need a new prescription from your doctor if you wanted to switch to Mevacor.
As a patient, you can rest assured that generics are safe. Generic drug recalls are rare, and the FDA closely regulates generic drug producers to protect us from quality issues and adverse effects. For more information, check out the FDA’s website here.
Regardless of whether you take a brand name drug or a generic drug, the FamilyWize Prescription Savings Card can help you to save money on your prescription drug costs.
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