Harvard Women's Health Watch

Ask the doctor: Are generic drugs the same as brand-name drugs?

Q. I recently switched from Prilosec to its generic form, omeprazole, and it doesn't relieve my heartburn as well as Prilosec. Aren't generics supposed to be the same as the brand-name drugs?

A. A generic drug and its brand-name version should be equally effective. They contain the same active ingredient at the same dose and strength and are taken in the same way. In fact, a generic drug doesn't gain FDA approval until the manufacturer proves that it works as well as the brand-name drug, is just as safe, and is manufactured according to the same standards. The FDA conducts about 3,500 inspections a year to ensure that production quality standards are met. A bill before Congress would increase the number of annual inspections, including at facilities overseas.

Generics can differ from brand-name drugs in their color, flavor, and inactive ingredients, because trademark regulations in the United States prevent the sale of generic drugs that look exactly like the brand-name drug. Individual reactions to the inactive substances in a generic drug — including allergic reactions — could alter its effectiveness, but these reactions are just as likely with a brand-name drug.

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