Generic vs. Brand Name Medicine: What’s the Difference? - VITAL+ Pharmacy

Stumped when your pharmacist asks you which brand of medicine to buy? Here’s what you should look out for when choosing between branded and generic medication.

“Branded or generic?”

A question you’ve probably been asked by your pharmacist many, many times before. But do you know what the difference is between the two? Most people opt for the branded option because they’re more reputable, right? The more expensive something is, the more effective it is. And of course the ingredients will be far more superior. Well actually, no.

The truth is there isn't much difference at all. Whether your medication is branded or generic, they’ll both contain the same active ingredients and quantities, so the main difference will literally be the cost and the packaging your medication comes in.

What do I need to look out for?

The main difference isn't the medication itself, but rather the packaging of the product and who manufactures it.

Original (or branded) and generic medications contain exactly the same active ingredients and quantities, and are also both subject to the same rigorous testing techniques. Both medications are tested for quality, strength, purity, and potency, to prove its efficacy, before approval by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. They must have the same active ingredient and provide the same benefits. Both medications, therefore, are equally as effective at treating the same problem.

So is there a difference between Panadol and paracetamol?

Let’s look at Panadol, for example. The active ingredient in Panadol is paracetamol. Branded Panadol and generic paracetamol both contain 500mg of paracetamol. They’re both subject to the same trials and testing as one other, so essentially they are equally as effective as each other. They will both treat the same issue.

But what about the ingredients?

Whilst they both contain the same active ingredients, they might have different inactive ingredients to each other. These inactive ingredients are most commonly binding materials, preservatives, flavouring agents and dyes, and do not interfere with the active ingredient. They use these ingredients to make the medication. Essentially, it’s how the pill is formed and manufactured.

In this case, it’s important to know the medicine’s inactive ingredients, to rule out any potential allergies. Some people may be allergic to lactose or gluten. Generic companies have attempted to alleviate this issue by using non-active ingredients that do not contain lactose and or gluten.

They may end up choosing the generic medication, therefore, if they have an allergy to any of the inactive ingredients in the branded version.

Why is generic medication cheaper? Does that mean they're worse quality?

Wrong! Generic medicine is cheaper than branded medication because the manufacturers don’t conduct the research themselves. They don’t spend money on years of original research, clinical trials and advertising, because this has already been carried out by the original manufacturers. This is why branded medicines are that much more expensive — they’ve forked out the money to conduct the research themselves, whereas generic medicines don’t. They basically refer to the original research to reproduce an alternative generic version.

Once the branding and copyright of the original branded medication has run out (this varies based on each medication, it could be anywhere between 5-20 years), generic manufacturers can then sell generic versions of medications at a cheaper price than the original.

So, which should I choose?

Ultimately, the choice is down to personal preference. Some brands are more recognisable, so you might be swayed by the ‘name’ when you buy. Because both branded and generic medication contain the same active ingredients and quantities, your choice will essentially be determined by cost. They both work in exactly the same way, it just depends if you’re happy to pay more money for a more recognisable brand than a non-branded version.

The only difference to look out for are the inactive ingredients — if you’re allergic to any of these ingredients, you’ll have to opt for an alternative version.

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