If you’ve ever had a prescription filled in Canada or anywhere else across North America, then there is a strong likelihood that that medication you are taking (or have taken) is what’s known as a “generic” drug. In fact, as many as 80% of all prescriptions filled are generic drugs.

What is a Generic Drug?

When people hear the word “generic”, this often causes some pause and alarm in patients, as the word generic is often easily associated with things that are considered to be inferior quality or unsafe. However, this is not something you should worry about when it comes to generic drugs. Generic medication is just as high in quality as their brand name counterparts, and you should not be worried that you aren’t getting the adequate amount or quality of medication that you need. Generic drugs are copies of brand name medications and contain the same exact active ingredients as well as the same quantity, which provides patients with the exact same therapeutic benefits as brand name medication would.

What’s the Difference Between Generic and Brand Name Drugs?

As mentioned, generic drugs contain the same active ingredients as brand name drugs do – this is known as the medicinal component. However, pharmaceutical companies may use different inactive ingredients in generic vs. non-generic drugs. Active ingredients include those that are used to coat the pills, colour the pills, and to bind the pills into tablet form, as well as flavouring. Compared to brand name drugs, generic drugs may also differ in shape and size, packaging and labelling, as well as expiration date – though, just like brand name drugs, generic drugs still keep their effectiveness until their expiration date.

Pharmacists and physicians like Dr. Ali Ghahary say it is also important for patients to be aware that all inactive ingredients used in generic drugs are always first approved by the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration) and Canada’s Food and Drugs Act and Food and Drug Regulation prior to being made available to the public. If any of the inactive ingredients were not safe for consumption, the drug would not be made available. Generic drugs must also come in the same strengths as brand name drugs, have the same uses and effects, be administered the same way, and reach the required level in the blood stream.

Generic vs. Brand Name Pricing

One of the main reasons why generic drugs came into existence was due to the price difference, meaning generic medication is much more affordable for individuals than their brand name counterparts. If you’re wondering why generic medications are often so much cheaper compared to brand name medication, this is because the makers of generic drugs often don’t face the same costs that the manufacturers of brand name drugs do – and also because brand name makers are usually responsible for the original creation of the drug, which usually costs millions – if not billions – of dollars.

Can I Still Be Allergic to Generic Drugs?

Just like brand name drugs, it is still possible to be allergic to generic drugs. For example, if you take a brand name form of Penicillin but are allergic to it, you will still be allergic to a generic form of Penicillin. Switching between brand name and generic medication won’t magically make your allergy disappear, as Penicillin is still the main active ingredient in the medication. It’s also possible to be allergic or sensitive to the inactive ingredients found in generic medication, though this is rare and generic medications are, overall, considered to be quite safe. If you do notice any signs or symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as a rash, hives, swelling, or have trouble breathing, you should make sure you seek immediate medical attention.

If you have any questions about any of the medications you’ve been prescribed, never hesitate to reach out to your local pharmacy or speak to your family physician.