Ask the Expert: Generic Drugs

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Cliff Keltner, a clinical pharmacist affiliated with Sharp, explains the difference between generic and brand-name drugs.

Is there a difference between generic and brand-name drugs?
The difference between generic and brand-name drugs really only deals with the time that they came out on the market. Initially, a brand-name drug has a patent so that no other company can make that drug for a certain period of time. And once that patent expires, then several another companies can start making that same medication. The generic drugs that the other companies are making have to be approved equivalent by the FDA. So they are similar drugs rated by the FDA and they have to be considered just as safe and effective as the original brand as the end product.

Do generic drugs look the same as brand-name drugs?
The generic drug is going to look different than the brand-name product because all medications have a different appearance. And the reason for that is in order to identify the drug, so each drug has a different marking and color and shape, so that later on, if that was ever lost or spilled, we would be able to identify exactly what the medication is and from what manufacturer. So all medications are different based on the name of the drug, the strength and the manufacturer — but they are exactly the same product.

Do generic drugs cause different side effects?
The side effects that you would expect with a generic product are essentially the same as the brand-name product since the active ingredient in the drugs are exactly the same. The generic has the same active ingredient as the original brand-name product and they perform the same way in your body. Generic drugs take just as long to work as the brand-name drug. The amount that is available to the body is going to be the same, and so they take just as long to work.

Why are generic drugs cheaper?
The reason that generic drugs are much cheaper than the brand-name product is because the generic companies don't have to go through the same process of approving the drug through the FDA like the brand-name company did, so it saves them a lot of money. Secondly, because there's now multiple companies that can make the same drug, the medication cost — just due to the competition — lowers considerably. So, generally speaking, the generic drug tends to cost significantly less than the original brand-name product.

For More Information
To learn more about Sharp's senior health services or to find a Sharp-affiliated physician, search for San Diego doctors or call 1-800-82-SHARP (1-800-827-4277), Monday through Friday, 8 am to 6 pm. To find general information about senior health, read the Senior Health News archive.

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About the Expert
Cliff Keltner is a clinical pharmacist affiliated with Sharp.