Is a Generic Available?

Sarah Jane Rodriguez

March 18, 2020

Share this article

(This article first appeared in the March/April 2020 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)

If you’ve needed a prescription filled recently, there’s a good chance a generic is available. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), almost 80% of fills are generics over brand-name drugs. If you are filling your prescriptions with a brand-name drug, you may be paying more than you could for your medications. What is a generic medication?

A generic drug is a medication created to be the same as an already marketed brand-name drug in dosage form, safety, strength, route of administration, quality, performance characteristics, and intended use. These similarities help to demonstrate bioequivalence, which means that a generic medicine works in the same way and provides the same clinical benefit as its brand-name version.

One way to save money on prescriptions is to ask for a generic, which typically costs less because the manufacturer did not have to conduct the initial research or repeat the studies that the first-to-market branded drug did. Generics fall into two categories:

  • Direct chemical equivalent: a drug that has the same active ingredient as its brand-name counterpart
  • Therapeutic alternative: a drug that may not be chemically equivalent to the brand, but has the same therapeutic or treatment effect

In other words, direct chemical equivalents are practically identical to the branded product, while therapeutic alternatives are part of the same family.

Does the generic work the same as brandname drug?

Yes. Any generic medicine modeled after a brand-name medicine must perform the same in the body as the brand-name medicine. This standard applies to all generic medicines. Generic medicines use the same active ingredients as brand-name medicines and work the same way, so they have the same risks and benefits as the brand-name medicines. The FDA Generic Drugs Program conducts a rigorous review to make certain generic medicines meet these standards, in addition to conducting 3,500 inspections of manufacturing plants a year and monitoring drug safety after the generic medicine has been approved and brought to market.

Ask Questions

At your office visit, before your prescription is sent to the pharmacy, be sure to ask the doctor or nurse, “Is there a generic available?” Review your maintenance medications. Regularly check with your doctor or pharmacist to see if a generic is available.

Get the facts from the FDA. Learn more about the benefits of generic drugs from

Editor’s Note: Information in this article is taken from the Food & Drug Administration’s Generic Drug Facts webpage.

Stay in touch with your union

Subscribe to receive important information from your union.