Medication Monday: Generic vs. Brand Name

One common question about mental health medications is a question common to any medication, which is generic or brand name? So, I decided to take a look at the age-old medication question in this week’s Medication Monday, the weekly series that examines mental health medications, as well as some of the associated risks and issues that come with these types of medications.

Generic medications are medications that have the same active ingredient, strength, form (tablet, injectable, etc), onset of action, and delivery method. However, while brand name medications must go through extensive testing to ensure safety, generic medications don’t, which makes them much cheaper usually. This doesn’t mean that generic medications aren’t safe, but rather that the safety testing related to the active ingredient was already done by the brand name medication, so there is no need to repeat those tests. Indeed, generic medications are monitored and held to the same safety standards by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (and by their counterparts in other countries) as brand name medication.

So if they have the same active ingredient and cost way less, why would brand names still be prescribed by medical professionals?

Well, the active ingredient isn’t the only thing in there. Inactive ingredients, also called fillers, can impact the efficacy of the medication. The FDA allows for up to 15 percent variation in filler ingredients, with the average being about 3.5 percent. This means it might not be a question of strength or dose, but rather how quickly it is absorbed by the body and how much of the medication is available for the body to use.

And while I said that generic drugs are usually cheaper, that isn’t always the case. Another reason that generic drugs are cheaper is because they are made by multiple manufacturers, and the resulting competition drives down cost. However, if only one company is making a generic medication, it might jack up the price to take advantage of having cornered the market on that specific generic medication.

There may also be differences in price based on the pharmacy you use or insurance issues. For some reason, my insurance works at Walgreens, but not CVS (which is fine with me because I’ve since discovered that my local Walgreens has better service than my local CVS).

All of this means that you should look at the price of both the generic and the brand name, and shop around if you feel like you aren’t getting a fair price. And, ultimately if you have questions about the difference between a generic and a brand name medication, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor or pharmacist about that difference. That is what they are there for and you asking those questions is an important part of self-advocacy.

Lastly, I wish to close with my regular reminder that Medication Monday is not a substitute for medical advice the same way generic medications might be a substitute for brand name medications. Rather, Medication Monday is meant to be a brief, informative introduction the mental health medications and associated issues with those medications. As such, I hope you found this post enlightening and as always thanks for reading.

Sources: NAMI – Generic Medications; WebMD – Generic Drugs: Dos and Don’ts

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