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The proof is in the pill

Your healthcare provider writes you a prescription for heart medicine, which your pharmacist fills with a generic form of the drug. Now you’re wondering, “Is this as good as the name brand?”

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), you have nothing to worry about. The organization requires that generic forms of drugs be just as strong as their name-brand counterparts and work in the same way and amount of time.

Equally effective

In a 2008 study, researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital looked at 38 trials involving various heart medications, including ACE inhibitors and statins, and found that the brand-name and generic drugs were equally effective.

So why do some people swear that generics don’t work as well?

Both forms of drugs have the same active ingredients. But because generics aren’t allowed to look like their equivalents, they use different coloring agents, binders and preservatives. Theoretically, these differences could potentially affect how a drug works for you, though it’s highly unlikely.

There might also be the perception that since generics cost less than name brands, their quality must be inferior. But generics are often made at the same factories as name brands. They cost less because their makers don’t have the costs associated with researching and developing the drug. Instead, manufacturers wait for the patent to run out on the name-brand medication—after 20 years on the market—and apply to the FDA for approval to sell a generic version. More and more companies are likely to try to sell the same drug following the patent expiration, which also keeps the cost down.

Big savings

So just how much could you save from going generic? Take the cholesterol-lowering medication Pravachol. People buying the name-brand pill can expect to pay about $168 a month. The generic? About $90 a month, according to Consumer Reports.

However, if you’re still concerned about the effectiveness of generic medications, talk with your healthcare provider. He or she can help you weigh your options.