Generic vs Brand Name Drugs Is there a difference?


The average brand-name drug costs 70% more than its generic counterpart. The question is, is it even worth it?

Most of us tend to judge a book by its cover. Yet it's widely agreed upon that the cover doesn't always reflect the content. Can the same logic be applied to medication?

Active ingredient lists show that yes, the same logic can be applied. People often opt for name-brand rather than generic medication, despite the sometimes drastic price difference. What many don't realize is that name-brand versions of generic drugs have identical active-ingredient lists.

Take cold and cough medicine as an example. Children's Triaminic Night Time Cold & Cough Syrup has two active ingredients: 6.25 mg of Diphenydramine HCI and 2.5 mg of Phenylephrine HCI. Its generic equivalent, CVS Children's Cold & Cough Nighttime Liquid, has the same amount of the same two active ingredients. Yet, the CVS brand medication costs 30% less than the Triaminic. This seemingly arbitrary price difference is a consistent pattern between generic and name-brand drugs. Zyrtec, a popular allergy medication, has an identical active-ingredients list to that of CVS-brand allergy medication. However, similarly to the Triaminic vs. CVS-brand cold and cough medication, the CVS allergy medication costs 25% less than Zyrtec.

In the case of prescription drugs, the price difference grows more drastic. The average generic prescription drug costs 80% less than the brand-name version of the same drug. Yet people continue to purchase the brand-name medication over the cheaper generic version.

Brand-name drugs do not contain better active ingredients than their generic counterparts. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or the FDA, requires that generic drugs have the same active ingredient, strength, dosage form, and route of administration as the brand-name product. The FDA has also published a study evaluating the results of 38 clinical trials that compared cardiovascular generic drugs to their brand-name counterparts. According to the FDA, there was "no evidence that brand name heart drugs worked any better than generic heart drugs".

So if quality cannot justify the price difference between generic and brand-name drugs, perhaps another factor could be motivating people to spend the extra cash for the brand-name product. We interviewed a few people on the subject. One person responded, "People think that trusting what other people trust is a safe bet, and that the cheap stuff might not do the same thing." In other words, people assume that the cheaper product is not as effective. Another person interviewed said, "People buy brand-name drugs over generic because they don't trust the science. They don't trust that it's the same thing. Also, in terms of the branded drug company, people feel like they know the company and trust them more."

This consensus tends to apply to the majority of people. It's surprisingly common for people to judge a product based on its price. In one study conducted, people were given wine marked with different prices and asked to evaluate the taste of the wine. According to the study, "participants reported greater experienced pleasure for wines that were labeled as more expensive, even though what they actually drank was the same in both cases. These results suggest that merely labeling a good as more expensive seems to affect the subjective utility a person experiences from that good."

This phenomenon would explain people's tendency to purchase brand-name drugs over their generic equivalents despite the price difference. There's no doubt that, if one was to purchase the generic version of a brand name drug, they'd get more of their money's worth. Maybe next time you visit your local drugstore, you'll opt for the generic drug, too.

Sources: Jonathan Berg Justin Berg

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