If you’re like many people, when your muscles beginto ache or your nose begins to run, you may find yourself inyour 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 wellas generic store brands such as Life, Safeway, Kirkland orRexall. 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 thebody 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 Canadastandards for bioequivalence, which means that the productshave the same active ingredient, in the same amount, and areabsorbed in the same way, whether they are generic or brandname,” Jennings says.
Companies manufacturing and selling drugs in ourcountry must also follow strict Health Canada rules toensure the quality of their ingredients.
Generic drugs may come with a smaller price tag becausethe manufacturers don’t have to spend as much researching,developing or marketing them as the original maker. Aswell, often more than one company makes a generic copy,which creates competition in the market.
Jennings recommends consulting with your pharmacistbefore taking any drug, either brand name or generic, for thefirst time.
— Heather Kipling
For more about on generic drugs, visit cadth.ca/generics, orhc-sc.gc.ca and search for the safety and effectiveness ofgeneric drugs.
In Canada, generic drugs must meet Health Canada standards for theway they work and the quality of their ingredients.