22 May

The Difference Between Generic and Original Medication


Making a decision in your favour

Have you ever walked into a pharmacy to have a prescription filled and the friendly pharmacist on duty offers you the generic choice of medication instead of the original? This may seem daunting as your trusted doctor may have prescribed a set brand, but the pharmacist suggests a different one. What do you do? Here we shed some light on the differences between generic and original drugs and how choosing the generic option can certainly work in your favour.

What is a generic drug?

Generic medication is formulated to copy its brand-name alternative and by law, should serve to function in the same way as the original in terms of its dosage, safety, effectiveness, strength, stability, and quality. In other words, generic drugs are a pharmaceutical match to the originals but are often available under a different brand name and will typically be much more affordable.

So, what’s the real difference?

Generic drugs may look different from the originals; they may boast different flavours, colours or combinations. However, these products must offer the same medicinal effects as the original products.

Generic products are often significantly cheaper than the originals and this fact alone often creates a negative stigma around the use of such medication. The consumer is often sceptical about the cost difference and many myths have circulated suggesting that generic drugs are cheaper and thus less effective and less superior than the original products. This is not true. In fact, in order to be approved for sale to the public, the generic medication must adhere to strict standards, using the same active ingredients to chemically match the originals and offer the same results.

The real difference actually lies with the cost of these products. Breaking the stigma may be key in helping the public realise the huge cost-saving benefits that generic drugs have to offer.

Why are generic medicines so much cheaper?

In the pharmaceutical industry, companies will typically spend many years and millions of rands in researching, refining, testing and developing new medication to be approved for public use. These original medicines are then patented, giving the owners the exclusive right to manufacture and sell their original products.

The good news is that patents do not last forever. In fact, a patent will typically last between 15 to 20 years before other manufacturers can rightfully gain access to replicate these medications. By copying the original drug and spending far less on research and development, the generic versions can then be sold at a much more affordable price.

Original brands will also typically have a higher profit margin and manufacturers may invest more in strategic advertising to get these new drugs off the ground and help them sell well. All of the above has an effect on the retail price of original medicines, which are often far higher than any generic drug.

Once patents expire and more manufacturers step in to produce generic versions of the same product, this increased competition can further drive down the price of generic drugs. For the consumer, this is a win-win situation. With the rising costs of medical treatments and healthcare in South Africa, affordable generic drugs are a welcome addition to the market and can result in significant cost savings.

The Impact

The World Health Organisation has compiled noteworthy data to help promote the use of generic medications globally. According to the WHO, the use of these products significantly reduces the cost of medicines to both governments and patients. However, the choice remains with the consumer.

Today, generic medicines are being successfully used to treat a number of ailments, from cancer and HIV to tuberculosis and genetic heart illnesses. Awareness and information are key to ensure that more people understand the value of purchasing generic medicines.

Access to affordable healthcare is still limited in many developing countries. Thankfully, however, in South Africa the use of generic medication is on the rise and may help to save the country millions in medical costs.


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