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Generic Medications

There are thousands of medications marketed and sold across the globe. They are separated into two different types of drugs: brand name and generic. It may be hard to determine the differences and similarities between these two types of medication. Brand name medications are new chemical entities created and marketed by pharmaceutical companies. Brand name drugs have a patent which prevents other companies from creating their own versions of the same medications; medication patents usually expire within 10-14 years. After the patent expires, other companies can start creating copies of the brand name drugs known as generic medications.

Which is Better?

There is misconception that generic drugs are inferior versions of brand name medications. As of 2015, 45% of all prescriptions dispensed in Canada were generic medications, with a higher percentage being dispensed each year. Some hospitals only use generic medications to keep costs down. Learning more about generic drugs and their safety and effectiveness will help you adhere to your medication regimen.

Similarities Between Brand Name and Generic Medications

Health Canada and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) based in the United States, are responsible for regulating drugs and ensuring national public health, including approval of generic medications. Generic medications are required to contain the same active ingredients as the brand name drug. They must also be the same strength, dosage form (ex. tablet), safety, route of administration (ex. orally), and intended use as their brand name counterpart. Most importantly, to be approved, generic medications must perform in the same way and provide the same clinical benefit as its brand name version. This is also known as bioequivalence. Generic manufacturers must prove their medications are safe and effective via bioequivalent studies to be approved by both regulating bodies.

Differences Between Brand Name and Generic Medications

There are 4 major differences between brand name and generic medications:

  1. Different names – Medications have both a brand name and generic name. Generic medications use the medication’s generic name for branding. For example, the generic name of Tylenol is acetaminophen, which is the main ingredient found in both brand name and generic Tylenol.
  2. Inactive ingredients – Generic drugs may have different inactive ingredients than the brand name. The generic manufacturer must prove the different inactive ingredients found in their medication do not affect how the medication works. It is important to note that some people may be allergic or sensitive to inactive ingredients in both brand and generic medications.
  3. Appearance – By law, generic drugs must look different compared to its brand name version. Generics may have a different colour, shape, size, or markings on the medication. These differences have no bearing on the medication’s effectiveness.
  4. Cost – Brand name manufacturers spend billions of dollars on research and development, including human clinical trials, to prove their medications are safe and effective before they can obtain approval from Health Canada and the FDA. Generic drug companies do not have to repeat their same clinical studies to show their medications are safe and effective. This helps decrease the cost of generics. Multiple generic versions from numerous manufacturers are usually approved as well, which also drives down the cost of generic medications in the marketplace. The lower the cost of a medication, the more likely a patient will adhere to the prescribed treatment.

Talk to your Health Care Professional

You may have been dispensed a generic medication and not noticed it. Talk to your doctor and pharmacist about the generic medications as part of your current regimen. They can help dispel any misconceptions you may have about generic drugs.


  1. Similarities and Differences Between Brand Name and Generic Drugs (2015, July 17). Retrieved from: https://www.cadth.ca/generic-drugs/similarities-and-differences-between-brand-name-and-generic-drugs
  2. The Safety and Effectiveness of Generic Drugs (2012 April). Retrieved from: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/healthy-living/your-health/medical-information/safety-effectiveness-generic-drugs.html#a4
  3. Generic Drugs: Questions and Answers (2017, November 28). Retrieved from: https://www.fda.gov/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/QuestionsAnswers/ucm100100.htm

This article was provided by the clinical pharmacy at Rx Infinity. Rx Infinity provides optimal and sustainable patient management solutions through customized programs, innovative technology and added value services that improve the overall patient experience; while helping payers and plan sponsors achieve sustainability in the management of drug plans expenditures.

This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking advice or treatment because of something you have read here.

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