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Generic Drugs
Does Inexpensive Mean Cheap?

by Robert S. Dinsmoor

How do you know whether you’re taking the generic or brand-name version of a drug? It’s a good idea to know both the generic and brand names of the drugs you take—even though the generic name may be much harder to pronounce. “If someone has been taking Zantac for years for heartburn and they’re switched over to ranitidine, they may think the name change means they’re taking a different drug—whereas in fact Zantac is ranitidine and ranitidine is Zantac,” Dr. Setter points out. Some—but not all—pharmacies also mark on the bottle if a drug is a generic. The best way to find out is to ask your pharmacist.

If you switch from a brand-name drug to a generic, don’t be surprised if your generic pill looks different from the brand-name pill. By law, generic drugs are not allowed to look like the original pill. Different generic versions of the same drug also vary in shape and color. According to Dr. Setter, if the pill looks different when your prescription is refilled, be sure to check with your pharmacist to make sure you’re getting the right drug.

For many people, generic drugs are a safe and effective replacement for costlier brand-name drugs. Check with your health-care team to see if generics are the way to go for you.

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