Generic Medicines – What They Are and What They Mean for the Public

Patients now have a choice. (photo from

Health is wealth, and for some, this adage has become too literal. Getting sick means shelling a lot of money for doctor consultations, hospital and laboratory fees and expensive medicines. I was one of those who regarded the unbranded drugs with suspicion, thinking they’re less effective if they’re not that expensive. It was just   recently, when I started living on my own, that I became conscious on where I spend my hard-earned money. I got sick with urinary tract infection, and normally I’d just shrug at how much would antibiotics cost but would nevertheless buy them. But living on my own made me think thrice (not just twice, mind you) about choosing between the expensive branded ones generic ones. Do we really need to pay for expensive medicines when generic alternatives, as generic drugs stores claim, are as effective but half the price tag, are available?

What are generic drugs?

According to US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), generic drugs are any drug products that are comparable to a branded or reference-listed product in dosage form, strength, route in administration, quality and performance characteristics and intended use. Generic drugs are medicines identical to their branded versions except in name. The branded drug carries a proper name on its label, while the generic drug only carries the chemical name and the name of the manufacturer.  Both, though, are the same in terms of active ingredients and formulation.

Why are generic drugs cheaper?

When a drug first comes out in the market, the company that invested in its research and development is awarded the protection of a patent for about 20 years – intended for return of investment. This means that the manufacturing and distribution is initially exclusive to the pharmaceutical company that poured billions of dollars into its research and development, which is understandable – developing a new product and testing it in large-scales trials doesn’t come cheap. Once the patents expire, other companies are free to reproduce the formulation at reduced cost- they only need to cover for manufacturing costs – as research and testing would no longer be necessary. Competition among pharmaceutical companies adds further reduction to the price of generic medicines.

Are they safe? Generic drugs are the same as their branded counterparts in terms of quality, efficacy and safety as still need to pass FDA requirements before  they are distributed. This assures consumers of their quality, safety and effectiveness. You can trust generic medicines if they are:

Patients now have a choice. (photo from
Patients now have a choice. (photo from
  • Manufactured by a trusted pharmaceutical company.
  • FDA-approved.
  • Sold by a reputable pharmaceutical retailer.

Generic brands do not have much difference from the branded ones, as long as they have the same generic name and dosage strength. Generic brands are required to have the same quality, strength, purity, stability and efficacy as that of their branded counterparts. They use the same component as that of branded medicines, so the action of generic drugs in the body is expected to be similar to that of the expensive ones.

Do all medicines have generic counterparts? Not all brands have generic counterparts, especially those that are new in the market. It takes some time before patents that protect the drug developer expire.

To be safe, you can always ask your physician or the store’s pharmacist. Educating ourselves will allow us to make informed choices, especially when it concerns our health.


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