What are Generic Drugs?

Everyone knows that generic drugs are less expensive than the name brand ones. In many cases, because of this price difference, insurance companies will attempt to convince their customers to take the generics instead. In fact, most doctors’ prescription pads have a check mark, or something similar, for "Generics Not Okay" and, unless checked, the pharmacy is obligated to give the customer the generic version instead of the name brand version when insurance is involved, though this is highly dependent on the insurance provider.

It is really amazing the amount of things a pharmacist is just sort of supposed to know about the various different companies they deal with every day.

To understand the pricing differences between name brand drugs and generics, it is probably easiest to learn what happens with a drug from the moment of its inception to the moment of generics are available.

The Birth of a Drug

Drugs begin their lives in a lab where they are researched and developed based upon the needs of the market at the time. Occasionally it ends up working the other way around, where a drug company will produce a drug that the public did not know they needed, or did not know was possible, until the drug was available. Either way, modern drugs come into being only after tons of research and development followed by testing, testing, and more testing. This process, from the lab equipment and the highly trained medicinal chemists that actually create the drugs, to the paying of the companies that conduct the trials testing the drugs in real life conditions, is extremely expensive. Therefore, when the finished product finally hits the market, after also being tested for safety by government agencies, the drug is usually quite pricey. In order to protect the creator of the product, they are granted a patent for a certain amount of time in which the drug cannot be legally duplicated. For advertisement and public attention purposes, the drug is usually given a catchy name that may only barely resemble its chemical makeup. For example, the drug Zyrtec's chemical name is cetirizine hydrochloride. The word "Zyrtec" was likely created by the drug company's marketing team.

The End of the Patent

Once the life of the patent is over, the drug is usually well known by patients and doctors alike. At this point, a generic will often become available, especially if the drug is selling well. In most countries, it is illegal for the generic to carry any name other than its chemical name, in order to not be confused with the name brand version. The generic version will sell for a lot less for a few reasons. For one, the company producing the generic did not have to spend any money on research and development. As the chemical makeup of a drug is public knowledge, even while patented, they simply have to have the facilities to mix the chemicals. Another reason is anticipation of a price cut from the original pharmaceutical company, which generally happens in order to compete better with the generic. Technically, the two are supposed to be exactly the same chemically, but it is fairly well known that the companies that produce the generics tend to have looser quality control standards, so what should be a 50/50 mix might instead be a 45/55 mix while the original name brand would accept nothing less accurate than a 49/51 mix (this is just an example – the actual tolerances are usually much tighter for both sides). Sometimes this makes a difference in the end, sometimes it doesn't. Most of the time the patient simply has to try to see, though there are some cases where, due to other conditions, it is known who will react better to the name brand as opposed to the generic.

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