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Is there a difference between brand name and generic drugs?

They both work the same way, but prices may vary

If you’re like many people, when your muscles begin to ache or your nose begins to run, you may find yourself in your local drugstore, staring down a line of medications.

Among the brand names you’ll likely see are Tylenol, Advil and Motrin, or Benylin, NyQuil and Robitussin as well as generic store brands such as Life, Safeway, Kirkland or Rexall. So what’s the difference?

“A brand name drug is the first version of a drug to be sold within a country,” explains Sarah Jennings, an experienced pharmacist and a knowledge exchange officer with the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health (CADTH). “The first company to market a drug has spent years studying and developing it, so is allowed to hold a patent, and no other company is allowed to sell it for a number of years. When the patent expires, other companies are allowed to make copies of the drug, called generic drugs.”

One example Jennings draws on is the common pain reliever acetaminophen. The brand name product is called Tylenol, but the drug itself—acetaminophen—is available in many generic brands.

Generic drugs are designed to work the same way in the body as original brand-name drugs.

“In Canada, generic drugs must meet Health Canada standards for bioequivalence, which means that the products have the same active ingredient, in the same amount, and are absorbed in the same way, whether they are generic or brand name,” Jennings says.

Companies manufacturing and selling drugs in our country must also follow strict Health Canada rules to ensure the quality of their ingredients.

Generic drugs may come with a smaller price tag because the manufacturers don’t have to spend as much researching, developing or marketing them as the original maker. As well, often more than one company makes a generic copy,which creates competition in the market.

Jennings recommends consulting with your pharmacist before taking any drug, either brand name or generic, for the first time.

For more about on generic drugs, visit cadth.ca/generics, or hc-sc.gc.ca and search for the safety and effectiveness of generic drugs.

Source: Apple Magazine — Heather Kipling

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