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Generic Drugs: Answers to Common Questions

If you've had a prescription filled recently, there's a good chance you're taking a generic drug. Almost 80% of prescription drug sales are generics. Their use helps save patients and hospitals billions of dollars every year.

It's estimated that you could save at least two-thirds of your drug costs if you use generic drugs.

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According to the FDA, generic drugs can be trusted to have the same quality as brand-name drugs -- but at a cheaper price. That's important to know because no one wants to skimp on health, even if it means saving money.

What Are the Ways Generics Are the Same as Brand-Name Drugs?

The FDA requires a generic drug to meet standards that make sure it's the same basic product as the brand-name drug. That means the generic drug is safe and can be taken:

  • The same way as a brand-name drug
  • For the same reason as a brand-name drug

For the FDA to approve a generic drug, it must be the same as the brand-name product in its:

  • Active ingredient
  • Strength
  • Use and effect
  • Form of dosage form (for example a pill, inhaler, or liquid)
  • Ability to reach the required level in the bloodstream at the right time and to the same extent
  • Testing standards

 

How Are Generics Different From Brand-Name Drugs?

Some differences between generics and brand-name drugs are allowed. These differences may change the appearance of the drug. But they do not affect how it works or its safety.

Generic drugs may differ in:

  • Shape
  • Color
  • Packaging
  • Labeling (minor differences only)

Generic drugs are allowed to have different inactive ingredients than brand-name drugs. For example, they may have a different:

  • Flavoring
  • Preservative 

The inactive ingredients in a generic, though, must be considered safe by the FDA.

Generic drugs may also have a different expiration date than brand-name drugs. But even so, the generic must keep its effectiveness until its expiration date, just as required of a brand-name product.

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