A drug is any therapeutic agent, other than food, used to treat a physiological condition. Prescribing drugs to patients is quite common and no matter what the issue, there seems to be a medicine available for treatment in either the form of brand name or generic drugs.

A drug has three names including its chemical name, brand name and generic name. There are five steps a drug must go through to be approved for sale and consumption.

It must be submitted to the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) as a new chemical entity. Then it must apply for a patent. Following this a generic and brand name version are created. The FDA then reviews it and approves or rejects the new drug.

When writing a prescription, you choose either brand name or generic versions of a drug.

Currently, generic drugs account for close to 90 percent of prescribed drugs. This saves your patients and insurance companies billions of dollars.

Many of your patients have questions about the differences between generic medicines and brand name medicines. Because patients are not aware of the pharmaceutical values within both generic and name brand medicines, it is your job to provide them an answer to their question.

Knowing the differences, between generic drugs and brand name drugs will help you explain them to your patients. Below are similarities and differences between the two.

Active Ingredients

The Federal Drug Administration requires both generic drugs and brand name medicines have the exact same active ingredients.  Active ingredients are biologically active. They are also known as bulk actives, active substances or active pharmaceutical ingredients.

Inactive Ingredients

The FDA does not require brand name and generic drugs to have the same inactive ingredients. These do not change the affect of the medicine or the active ingredients. They may be known as filler agents.

Inactive ingredients are important even though they do not produce any therapeutic effects. They are considered fillers, binders or coating. They can also be flavoring, coloring or stabilizers.


Strength is the amount of the active ingredient in each dose of the medicine. Federal law requires both generic and brand name medicines to be comparable in strength. Meaning, per dose, they have the same amount of active ingredients.

For instance, if each Tylenol pill has 500mg, all generic versions of Tylenol must have 500mg of strength.


The effect of a drug refers to the change created when the medicine is taken. The effect produces a result in the patient.

The FDA requires that generic drugs produce the exact same effects as the brand name drug. Meaning, it must be comparable in results the patient will see when taking the medicine. Side effects may also be comparable.


Both generic drugs and brand name medicines must undergo and pass the same testing methods.

Clinical trials are performed in which the FDA oversees every step. The clinical trials involve humans taking a medication to see if it is safe and effective. There are usually three phases of testing.

If the medicine proves to have more benefits than side effects or negative reactions, it is approved for sale and consumption.

How You Take It

Generic drugs and brand medicines must be available in the same forms for consumption as brand name drugs. Meaning, if a brand name medicine is created in liquid form, so must the generic brand. If pill form is how a brand name drug is created, the generic version must also be in pill form.

Typical ways of taking a medicine include orally, inhalation, liquid, tinctures and by injection.


Prepackaged medications provide the safest form of distribution. Many doctors and pharmacies are choosing prepackaged medications due to the precise labeling and ease of use. Those who are not using prepackaged medications may notice differences between generic and name brand packaging.

The labeling, however, must be the same. This includes warning labels. However, only brand name medicines are required to update their warning labels each time a new risk or side effect is discovered.

Expiration Dates

Expiration dates can be misleading. An expiration date does not mean the drug is no longer any good after that date. It simply means that is the date a manufacturer can guarantee the full benefits of the medicine.

Even though a medicine has an expiration date, it can sometimes still be effective for months, even years, after that date.

According to the FDA, generic and name brand drugs can have different expiration dates. However, both drugs are required to be effective up until that expiration date.

This means a brand name can expire in one year and a generic version of the same medicine can expire in six months. But both must provide quality effectiveness until these dates arrive.

Price of Generic Drugs Vs. Brand Name

Brand name medicines are required to go through multiple and repeat studies on both animals and humans. This gets very expensive for the manufacturing companies. Therefore, the cost of a brand name medicine is much higher than that of a generic brand.

On top of this, the brand name manufacturers spend millions of dollars in production.

Generic drugs are not required to be involved in repeat studies or testing. This allows them to keep costs low.

Price differences between generic and brand name drugs can be massive. Brand names can range from 25 to 75 percent higher than generic brands. Therefore, insurance companies often require patients to use generic versions of a drug.

Take the time to explain these differences to your patients. When patients do not understand something about their healthcare, rather than ask questions, they may decide to just stop taking the medicine.

Especially when it comes to paying higher prices for medicine, patient choose to forego their medicine. If there is no generic version, explain to your patient the necessity of the medicine for their health.

Prepackaged medication allows for ordering only the number of pills your patient needs and no more. This may help your patient continue their medicine even if the cost is higher. Do what you can to help them improve their health. Sometimes a little bit of knowledge can go a long way in helping you reach that goal.