A generic drug is an identical chemical copy of its brand-name counterpart, which is the first version of the drug developed by a pharmaceutical company. Generic drugs provide the same clinical benefits as brand-name drugs but are much more affordable.
- Generic drugs work in the same way as brand-name drugs, meaning they have the same risks and benefits.
- Choosing generics can help save money on drug costs, as generics are almost always cheaper than their brand-name equivalents.
- Generics also need to be approved by the FDA, and are generally only sold after patents on their brand-name version expire.
Generics: Anything But Basic
In the U.S., nine out of 10 prescriptions filled are for generic drugs. This is because generic drugs offer the same clinical effects as their brand-name equivalents, but cost way less.
Generic drugs go through the same rigorous approval process by the FDA Generic Drugs Program. Although this is a different program than the one brand-name drugs go through, generic drugs must show that they are “pharmaceutically equivalent,” among a long list of other requirements.
Generics need to be created with the same dosage form, safety, strength, route of administration, quality and performance characteristics as the brand-name version that was approved and patented. Unless you have a strong preference for the brand-name drug, choosing the generic version (if available) saves you money on your medications. Who doesn’t like that?
When prescribed a new medication, ask your doctor if a generic option is available. Oftentimes, patients end up paying more than necessary for medications because physicians default to prescribing brand-name drugs.
Innovation In The Market
Rising drug costs have encouraged innovators to attempt to make it easier for Americans to access generics. If you’re interested, there are a number of programs and companies that operate exclusively to make accessing generics easier. Some of our favorites include GoodRx and Health Warehouse. Patients can freely search these sites to access discounted rates on a prescription.
Outside the Huddle
- Generic Drug Facts | FDA
Reviewed by Geetika Rao, MPH | Edited by Nidhi Mahagaokar, MPH | Fact checked by Jared Dashevsky, M.Eng