If you’re like many people, when your muscles begin
to ache or your nose begins to run, you may find yourself in
your local drugstore, staring down a line of medications.
Among the brand names you’ll likely see are Tylenol,
Advil and Motrin, or Benylin, NyQuil and Robitussin as well
as generic store brands such as Life, Safeway, Kirkland or
Rexall. So what’s the difference?
“A brand name drug is the first version of a drug to be sold
within a country,” explains Sarah Jennings, an experienced
pharmacist and a knowledge exchange officer with the
Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health
(CADTH). “The first company to market a drug has spent
years studying and developing it, so is allowed to hold
a patent, and no other company is allowed to sell it for a
number of years. When the patent expires, other companies
are allowed to make copies of the drug, called generic
One example Jennings draws on is the common pain
reliever acetaminophen. The brand name product is called
Tylenol, but the drug itself—acetaminophen—is available in
many generic brands.
Generic drugs are designed to work the same way in the
body as original brand-name drugs.
Ask an expert
They both work the same way,
but prices may vary
“In Canada, generic drugs must meet Health Canada
standards for bioequivalence, which means that the products
have the same active ingredient, in the same amount, and are
absorbed in the same way, whether they are generic or brand
name,” Jennings says.
Companies manufacturing and selling drugs in our
country must also follow strict Health Canada rules to
ensure the quality of their ingredients.
Generic drugs may come with a smaller price tag because
the manufacturers don’t have to spend as much researching,
developing or marketing them as the original maker. As
well, often more than one company makes a generic copy,
which creates competition in the market.
Jennings recommends consulting with your pharmacist
before taking any drug, either brand name or generic, for the
— Heather Kipling
For more about on generic drugs, visit cadth.ca/generics, or
hc-sc.gc.ca and search for the safety and effectiveness of
In Canada, generic drugs must meet Health Canada standards for the
way they work and the quality of their ingredients.