What’s In a (Brand) Name?


Shakespeare never had to worry about prescription medications, but he was on to something when he wrote this line for Romeo and Juliet.  The name of the medicine on the bottle you pick up from the pharmacy is often completely different than what your doctor told you she was giving you.  So what’s the deal?  Does a dose by any other name smell as sweet?

For the most part, yes.  Prescription medications have at least two different names, a brand name and a generic name.  Brand names are made up by drug companies and are designed to be catchy and easy to remember to help boost sales.  Generic names are based on a drug’s chemical structure or mechanism of action.  Drug companies can pick any brand name they want, but the generic name must be approved by the FDA.

To be approved by the FDA, the generic medication must go through rigorous testing to verify that the amount your body absorbs is therapeutically equivalent to within 10% of the brand name with regards to dosage, effectiveness, safety, and how it is taken.  Any generic medication carried by your pharmacy will be considered the same as the brand.

Pharmacies will default to the generic version of a drug if one is available because it is usually a lot cheaper.  Generic manufacturers can charge much less because they don’t have to cover the huge cost of researching and developing a new drug.  That’s why drug companies are allowed to keep a new drug exclusively brand name for about 7-8 years after introducing it to the market.  Different pharmacies may use different distributors and wholesalers to purchase these medications, so even generic medications may end up looking different from time to time.

There are some instances where your doctor might want you to have the specific brand name drug.  In this situation, she will write “DAW” or “dispense as written” on the prescription.  If your doctor does this, the pharmacy isn’t allowed to fill your prescription with a generic equivalent even if one is available.  If your doctor doesn’t specify, the pharmacy will use the generic.

Brand name medications are more expensive than their generic counterparts, but there are some things you can do to save some cash.  Always ask your doctor if there is a generic option for the treatment she is prescribing for you.  If not, drug companies will sometimes offer manufacturer coupons to help bring down the cost of your copay.  Ask the pharmacist about this when you pick the medication up or check the drug manufacturer’s website; these discounts are often available online. 

If you have any other questions about the medications you are taking, the pharmacy staff at the Wilce Student Health Center is always willing to help.  Feel free to stop by or give us a call.

Alex Heine, PharmD Candidate, 2012
College of Pharmacy
The Ohio State University

Jason Goodman PharmD, RPh
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University