Michael Basco Explains How to Choose between Generic and Brand Name Medications

The cost of prescription medicine has skyrocketed over the past several years. Many patients are left with the unpleasant choice between affording their medication and paying for the other necessities of life. Generic drugs can be an important tool when patients are looking for a more affordable alternative to brand-name prescriptions. However, not all generics are created equal. 

Eight in ten prescriptions filled in the United States are for generic medications. Michael Basco, a pharmaceutical professional, examines the difference between generic drugs and prescription medications and explains how choosing a generic drug can keep you healthy at a much more affordable price.

What’s in a Brand Name?

The brand-name prescriptions that are widely advertised are newer than generics. They represent recent research into the drug and the condition it is meant to treat. Some patients may need to try newer approaches to their disease, and it will be recommended that they take a brand-name medication for their problem.

However, many brand-name drugs on the market have several generic alternatives. Brand-name prescriptions can cost up to five times as much as a comparable generic medication. Many patients look for ways that they can achieve the same results with more affordable generics.

Types of Generic Drugs

The active ingredients in a generic drug and those in a brand-name medication are, in many cases, exactly the same. The active ingredient in generic substitution drugs is the same as the brand-name prescription. Another type of generic drugs called therapeutic interchange drugs have the same effect as the brand-name medication but are slightly different in formulation compared to the brand-name drug. Doctors liken this difference to a brand-name cola versus a store brand. The drugs should be equally effective, but there may be some variations.

What Goes into a Generic Drug?

While generic drugs contain the same therapeutic medication as their brand-name counterparts, the ingredients of the tablet are different. All medications are a combination of the active ingredient and fillers that make up the rest of the tablet. Fillers help the medication to be stable in the long term, to bulk out the pill so it is easier to handle and help the body absorb the drug. 

These fillers have different effects on different people. They could affect the side effects experienced by people taking the drug, and they could cause the drug to be less effective in the patient’s body.

Blood absorption rates of generics and brand-name drugs may also differ. The FDA allows up to 15 percent difference in the rate of blood absorption for a generic drug in comparison with the brand-name medication. A medical study rated the average difference in absorption rate between generic and brand-name to be about 3.5 percent. This is comparable to the difference in absorption rate between batches of the same drug.

Most people will not notice a difference between the generic and brand-name versions of the same drug, but for others, it requires some trial and error to find the correct generic formulation for the patient’s individual needs. Fortunately, most generic drugs are produced by multiple companies and have many different formulations to choose from. Working with a doctor and a pharmacist, a patient should be able to experiment with different formulations and find out which works best for them.

Be Aware of Alternatives

Your physician may not always recommend a generic drug when there is an available alternative. Communicate with your physician and let them know that drug costs are important to you and that you need to be prescribed generic medications whenever possible. Pharmacists can also be key allies in helping a patient keep medication costs down.

For example, if a doctor prescribes an EpiPen epinephrine injector, they may not know that a generic produced by another company is available at a fraction of the price. This drug may have differences in the injector, but the active ingredient is exactly the same.

Generics Compare Favorably to Brand-Name Drugs

In most cases, taking a generic medication in place of a brand-name prescription will have no discernible effects on the body. Most patients will find that the generic medication works just as well at a much lower price.

However, there are some differences between the generic medication and the brand-name alternative. Fillers and bulking ingredients in the drugs may be different, leading to slight changes in the drug’s blood absorption and effectiveness. Most people will not notice these differences. If there is a problem, many generic drugs are produced by multiple companies, giving patients a range of generics to try.

Michael Basco advocates for the use of generic drugs and encourages all patients to talk to their doctor and pharmacist about replacing costly medications with these more economical alternatives.