Name Brand vs Generic Drugs

March 1, 2021

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Is There Really a Difference?  

Think of the last time you were in the drug store. Whether you were looking for something for a headache, a sore throat, allergies, or something in between; you probably found yourself wondering whether you should go with the brand name drugs or the generic ones. They are set at different prices, have different packaging, and are even made by different companies. There must be a difference in quality, right?  

Turns out, there is a difference, but it might not be what you think it is. In the United States, all drugs that are sold in drugstores, pharmacies, and supermarkets are all thoroughly tested and inspected by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). All drugs are tested to the same standard of quality, purity, and effectiveness. This means that the brand name and generic version of let’s say, Tylenol, are both going to have the same purity, effectiveness, quality, and even active ingredients. The active ingredients in a drug are what makes that drug “work” or do what it claims to do. The only difference that you may notice is the appearance of the drug. Putting the same generic and brand name drugs side-by-side, you may notice a slight difference in color, shape, or size. But this simple “cosmetic” difference is going to be the only difference between the two.  

So why is there a generic version and a brand name version if both drugs are the same?  

When a pharmaceutical company creates a new drug and it is approved by the FDA to be manufactured and sold in the US, the FDA issues that company a temporary patent on that drug. This patent makes it so that one company is the only one that is able to produce and sell the drug, meaning they can set their own price. This is part of the reason why brand name drugs are so expensive. Essentially, the patent is kind of like a gold star for the company for doing all of their research and creating a new drug that could potentially better the medical field and the people’s health. Eventually that patent will expire, and once it does, other companies are allowed to create their version of that same drug. And a generic drug is born! Generic drugs are set at cheaper price with the hopes to undercut the competition.  

So besides price and appearance, generic drugs and brand name drugs are the same! Let us know what other healthcare related topics that you would like to learn about at Healthy.UNH@unh.edu!  

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