Generic or Name-Brand: Is There a Difference?

Written By: Katie Freeman & Bronwyn Gibson

In hopes of curing a headache, you take a stroll down Target’s aisle and find a bottle of Advil ($14) and a bottle of Ibuprofen ($4). Which do you buy? If you skipped on the Ibuprofen, you are not alone.  In fact, over half the population chooses name-brand medications and products, even with identical, generic alternatives available for a fraction of the price.

Consumers are often led to believe that generic medications do not work as well or provide the same effects as their well-marketed, brand-name counterparts. However, this is nothing more than a hindering misconception as both name-brand and generic medications go through the same rigorous FDA approval process. To learn more on the approval process for the FDA, read here.

Before braving the battle of name-brand vs. generic, it is important to understand that each medication has a chemical name, describing its exact chemical makeup. Because these chemical names are typically a mouthful and enormously long, they would never be marketed towards a consumer. 



Brand Name

Looking at a well-known erectile dysfunction medication, Viagra’s generic name of Sildenafil is much easier to say than (don’t worry we’ll spare you) its chemical name.

Thus, when an innovator drug company has successfully created a new substance in the hopes of treating or curing a particular condition, it is first given a brand name.

The company then follows by spending a load of money to inform you, the consumer, of their new, patented, life-changing medication that you must possess to solve your problem.

Specifically, innovator pharmaceutical companies, such as Pfizer, fund the drug production process from innovation to consumer sale. The government wanting to promote new drug innovators, places a 20-year patent on the substance, enticing companies to fund new medication.

In essence, the government gives exclusivity to sell and market the drug without competition, allowing the company to recuperate the debt. Half of the patent’s duration, however, can be taken up by the clinical trials for the FDA safety approval process required for medications to be sold in the United States of America. 


Generic Name

Once the 20-year patent has dissolved, generic companies can begin manufacturing the drug under the FDA requirement that the generic medication be just as safe, effective, and of the same quality as their name-brand option.

If the medication meets these standards, it is approved just as the brand-name version was years prior. These FDA approved generics are bioequivalent with the same dosage form, quality, strength, safety, performance characteristics, and route of administration. It is important to know that counterfeit medications exist and should not be confused with those approved by the FDA.

The Differences: Inactive Ingredients

Although name-brand and generic medications act identically, they don’t always look the same. Sticking with the Viagra example, Viagra (little blue pill) and its generic form Sildenafil (little white pill) work in the same way but have slightly different aesthetics. 

Certain aspects of medications, such as color, are referred to as inactive ingredients. While the blue food coloring in Viagra is different than the white food coloring in Sildenafil, they work in the same way.  Other examples of inactive ingredients include binders, fillers, and variants of flavoring. 

Inactive ingredients may not affect medications and their effectiveness 99% of the time, but they are used for a variety of reasons. Beyond coloring and flavoring, binders and fillers are used to make the medication size and structure possible.

A great example is the 1mg tablet of Finasteride, commonly prescribed as a hair loss treatment option. If the 1mg tablet had zero fillers, the medication would be as small as a few grains of salt. Does the filler affect the medication? No. Does the filler make the pill a reasonable size? Absolutely. 

Still Deciding?

Whether a pill has the brand or generic name, the fact is it costs pennies to manufacture. By buying generic medication options, you will save a significant amount of money not paying for the name-brand markups. Remember, generic drug companies aren’t funding the brunt of the research and advertising costs required for the brand-name options. 

Skip the $61.32 50mg Viagra and get your generic Viagra here, where you can get started with a free online doctor visit.

 FDA. Generic Drugs. Accessed September 12, 2019.

National Center for Biotechnology. Sildenafil Citrate. Accessed September 12, 2019.

Scientific American. Brand-Name and Generic. Accessed September 12, 2019.

FDA. Use of Drug Name Terms Policy. Accessed September 12, 2019.

This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be used as the basis for any patient treatment. Always consult your primary care physician regarding any medical questions and advice, or before beginning any treatments.