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What’s the difference between branded and generic medications?

3 minute read
Person choosing between a branded prescription pill and a generic prescription pill

If you’ve ever visited a chemist to pick up a prescription, you’ve probably been asked by the pharmacist whether you’d prefer the brand name or generic medication.

And, although you might’ve automatically picked the cheaper version (#thrifty), do you really know what the difference is?

There’s a lot of confusion around branded and generic medication, so much so that the government is looking into a range of measures to encourage doctors to prescribe general medication, as opposed to defaulting to a more expensive branded option.

At nib, we believe that looking after your health should be simple, so we’ve answered some of the big questions about branded medication.

Are branded medications and generic medications the same?

The simple answer is yes - every medication you buy has a brand name (for example Panadol) and a generic name, which is simply the active ingredient in the medicine (in the case of Panadol, it would be Paracetamol).

When a medicine with a new active ingredient is released to the market, the pharmaceutical company that owns it will take out a patent. This patent stops any other company from producing their own brand of medicine with the same active ingredient for a few years – basically giving the original company a chance to recoup the money it spent developing, researching or buying the rights to the ingredient.

Once the patent expires, other companies might start developing their own version with the same active ingredient.

Although these new versions will have the same active ingredient and dose as the original, they probably differ in:

  • Look and taste
  • Packaging
  • Inactive ingredients – these are also called ‘filler’ ingredients and don’t alter the effectiveness of the medication.

Why are some brands of medication more expensive than others?

Usually the branded medication costs more than the generic options because it was the first to market and the company that produced it may have spent a significant amount of money on marketing, researching and developing the drug.

Why would I choose one brand of medication over another?

Both the generic and the branded medication will contain the same dosage and active ingredient, so it really just comes down to personal preference as to which option you choose. However, if you do have allergies, be sure to check the inactive ingredient list to make sure there’s nothing in it that you may react to.

Are you taking multiple prescription medications?

You may be surprised to learn that nib offers a program that includes personalised coaching with nutrition, fitness and lifestyle advice. If you’re taking four or more prescription medications you may be able to participate at no additional cost to you. Visit our Health Management Programs page to see if you may be eligible or call 1800 339 219 to learn more.

Do you get befuddled with health buzzwords like ‘BMI’ and ‘glucose’? We help you get to know your LDLs from your HDLS in our article The A to Z of health terms.

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