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Are generic medicines the same as brand-name medicines?

Blog post | 16 Aug 2019

Life is full of choices. Pizza or pasta? Paper or plastic? Read a book or binge-watch TV?

Even medicines come with choices. When you go to a pharmacy, you might be asked if you'd prefer a brand-name medicine or its generic alternative.

Marking Be Medicinewise Week 2019 (August 19-25) — which encourages all Australians to 'learn the language of medicines' — here's what you need to know about brand-name versus generic medicines, and their ingredients.

Are generic medicines as good?

Yes — in most cases.

All medicines sold in Australia must be approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). The TGA requires generic brands of a medicine to meet the same standards of quality, safety and effectiveness as the first, patented brand of that medicine. This applies both to prescription medicines and to over-the-counter medicines.

You will only be offered a generic brand of a prescription medicine if the active ingredient is identical to the original and has the same effect on the body. Not to mention that the generic version needs to be just as safe.

When you won't be offered a generic medicine

According to NPS Medicinewise, for a small number of medicines (such as warfarin), different brands may contain the same active ingredient but not have the same effect. This is sometimes due to differences in the manufacturing process, and in this case your pharmacist will recommend you stick with your usual brand.

Some people might not be offered a generic medicine because it contains another, inactive ingredient they should avoid, such as lactose, gluten or a certain preservative.

What are the other ingredients in medicines?

Most medicines contain an 'active' ingredient as well as 'inactive' ingredients.

The active ingredient is the key chemical that makes the medicine work. The inactive ingredients, sometimes called 'excipients', are needed for a variety of reasons, including:

  • as a filler if the quantity of active ingredient is very small
  • to stabilise the active ingredient so it remains effective for longer
  • to help the active ingredient be absorbed more easily by the body
  • as a binder to hold all the ingredients together
  • to sweeten or flavour the medicine to make it easier to take
  • to coat tablets or capsules so they're easier to swallow

Do I need to say 'yes' to generic medicines?

No.

Generic medicines can be cheaper than brand-name medicines, and sometimes pharmacists don't have the brand-name medicine in stock. But you don't have to opt for generic if you don't want to.

Here are 3 reasons people choose not to switch medicine brands:

  • To avoid confusion. It's best not to keep switching brands, especially if you take several different medicines.
  • For a few people, there may be risks in changing brands, such as having an allergy or intolerance to an inactive ingredient in a different brand of medicine. If in doubt, ask your pharmacist.
  • People with certain conditions may be advised to stick with their original prescribed brand. Your doctor will tell you if this is the case.

If you have any concerns about your medicines, discuss them with your doctor and pharmacist.

For more information

  • Use the healthdirect Question Builder to make a list of questions to take to your doctor or pharmacist.
  • You can look up the Consumer Medicine Information (CMI) leaflets of most medicines here.
  • Call the NPS Medicines Line on 1300 633 424 (1300 MEDICINE) for advice, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm AEST (excluding NSW public holidays).

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