Generic medications can provide a more affordable option to certain brand-name prescription drugs.

Eight out of every 10 prescriptions filled in the United States is for a generic medication. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that generic medications typically cost 80-85 percent less than the brand-name counterparts. This can lead to a huge savings on your pharmacy bill. So, what exactly is a generic drug?

First, it is important to understand what goes into the making of a new medication. When medications are first discovered, manufacturers apply for a patent. This gives the manufacturer exclusive rights to produce the drug and create the product’s branding.

Patent lengths vary on name-brand drugs, lasting seven years or more. The patent prevents other companies from making the medication for a particular time. These companies spend a lot of money doing such things as research, clinical trials and marketing. All of these things contribute to the higher cost of brand-name products.

Eventually, these patents expire. Around this time, other drug companies can get approval to start making this medication. The FDA requires that generic drugs have the same active ingredients, strength, dosage form, quality, safety and route of administration as the brand-name counterparts.

However, some of the fillers and other materials that go into the product can be different. In addition, these pills may look different from the branded medication.

For a medication to be used as a generic for a brand-name product, it has to go through several tests. These tests ensure the generic will react in the body in the same way that the brand-name product does. This includes how it is absorbed in the body, how long it takes to take effect and various other factors.

Only the products that are proven to be clinically equivalent, allowing for only a slight amount of variation, are used in place of the brand-name product. The FDA also holds generic companies to the same quality standards when manufacturing, packaging and testing the products. This ensures the integrity of the medication. In fact, many generics are made in the same manufacturing plants as the brand-name drugs.

As a patient, it is important to understand that generic medications are a safe, effective alternative to brand-name products. Generics can offer huge cost savings. Ask your physician if a generic medication is available for the one being prescribed. If one is not available, your local Sam’s Club Pharmacist might be able to recommend a similar medication.