5 common myths about generic medications

A man reads a medication label at his kitchen table.

Generic medications save consumers billions of dollars each year at pharmacies,1 yet consumer sentiment towards generics is mixed. In a recent national consumer research survey, 18% of respondents said they prefer brand-name medications over generics, and 40% of those surveyed said they don’t trust the quality of generic medications to be the same as brand-name medications.2

Despite the opportunity for significant savings, there continues to be confusion about generic vs. brand-name medications. To set the record straight, Express Scripts® Pharmacy is dispelling some of the most common myths or misconceptions around generic medications.

Myth 1: Brand-name medications cost more than generics because they are better or higher quality.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires generic medications to be bioequivalent to their branded counterpart. This means that the generic must have the same active ingredients, benefits, dosage form (e.g., pill, injectable), safety profile, strength, and way of administering it.

There are two reasons why generics typically cost less than brand-name medications and they have nothing to do with quality. The first is that the generic manufacturers don’t have to repeat the clinical trials that the brand-name manufacturers did to demonstrate that the medication is safe and effective. They only need to demonstrate their chemical equivalence.

The second is that the FDA approves multiple generic versions of medications, and the competition in the marketplace helps to bring down the price.

Myth 2: Generic medications look different so they can’t have the same ingredients.

Because of trademark laws, generic medications can’t look the same as brand-name medications. That’s why you’ll notice generics often have different sizes, shapes, colors, flavors, or packaging. The FDA also allows generic drug manufacturers to include different inactive ingredients in these medications. However, none of these changes should affect how the medication works.

Myth 3: I started taking a brand-name medication so I can’t switch to a generic one.

Generic medications are essentially the same as brand-name medications. They provide the same clinical benefits and work the same way, and therefore can be taken interchangeably. That’s why pharmacists typically dispense generics, when authorized by your prescriber or you, even when you have filled a prescription for a brand-name version in the past.

It’s important to note that the FDA does allow for small variation in how quickly a generic medication is absorbed into the body. For certain medications — particularly extended release medications like seizure medication or narrow therapeutic index drugs like thyroid medication or blood thinners — this small difference in absorption can lead to larger problems. If you take any of these medications, reach out to your pharmacist to discuss potential risks before making the switch and whether you may need additional monitoring by your doctor.

Myth 4: Generic medications are more likely to cause side effects.

The FDA requires that generics have the same clinical risks and benefits as their brand-name counterparts, so one version shouldn’t cause more side effects than the other should.

That being said, there is a very small chance you could have a reaction to one of the fillers or dyes in a generic medication. Reach out to your doctor or pharmacist if you think you’re having a negative reaction to your generic medication. They may recommend a different generic option or sticking with the brand-name version.

Myth 5: Generic medications are not as safe.

Generic medications must meet the same high safety standards as brand-name medications and go through the same rigorous approval process. The FDA conducts routine inspections of generic drug manufacturing plants to confirm compliance with agency regulations and continuously monitors approved generic drug products to ensure they are safe, effective, and of the highest quality in every step of the supply chain process.

Express Scripts® Pharmacy is here to help

We understand you may have additional questions or concerns around generic medications. Our pharmacists are available to you 24/7 to help put your mind at ease and make sure that whatever medication you take — whether it’s generic or brand-name — is right for you.

Posted date: July 21, 2022


1 U.S. Food and Drug Administration: What Are Generic Drugs? (accessed May 2022): https://www.fda.gov/drugs/generic-drugs/what-are-generic-drugs.
2 DiRx: Pharmacy Health Literacy: Consumer Survey Snapshot (April 14, 2022): dirxhealth.com

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