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Brand name drugs: When a new medicine is created and approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it is marketed under a brand name. The company that makes it patents the drug. This means this company is the only company that has the right to make and market this drug for a certain number of years, as noted in the patent.

Generic drugs: When a drug patent expires, other companies can make generic versions of the medicine if it follows certain standards set by the FDA. The generic medicines must have the:

  • Same active ingredient as the brand name drug
  • Same benefits and risks as the brand name drug
  • Same strength, dosage, and route of administration as the brand name drug
  • Same quality and manufacturing standards as the brand name drug

Generic drugs may be different from brand name drugs in the following ways:

  • May be made by the same company or by a different company
  • Different look and size, including packaging
  • Different inactive ingredients (side effects may vary from the brand name drug because of the inactive ingredients, but this is uncommon)
  • Lower costs (most of the time but not always)

Authorized generic drugs: This type of generic medicine is the same as the brand name medicine but without the brand name label. It will have the same active and inactive ingredients as the brand name drug. Authorized generic medicines may also cost less.

If a generic or authorized generic version of a drug exists, health insurance companies may cover those instead of the brand name medicine. Generic drugs can offer the same treatment at a lower cost than brand name.

When it comes to medicines like asthma inhalers and epinephrine devices, the active ingredient and doses will be the same, but the device may look and operate differently. It is very important for you to learn how to use the device prescribed to you even if it is the authorized generic of a brand name device.

Pharmacists must follow state and federal regulations when filling your prescription. You should keep this in mind when filling your prescription.

In many states, the pharmacist can substitute a generic form of the prescription. This must be on the prescription in writing. The pharmacist must also get a verbal approval from the doctor. If you or your doctor prefer to receive a specific brand name, your doctor must write the brand name and “DAW” (dispense as written) or “do not substitute” on the prescription. This note prevents the pharmacist from filling a generic form of the prescription.

Before you leave the pharmacy, make sure the pharmacy fills your prescription exactly as you expect.

Medical review: January 2024 by Jerry Shier, MD

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