Same medicine, different brands

Why does the same medicine have different brand names?

It’s a bit like with groceries where different companies can produce the same product and market it under different brand names. Medicines may also be sold under several different brands — an original brand, and generic brands.

It can be confusing when you’re offered a medicine with a different name and are told that it’s actually the same as the one on your prescription or the medicine you usually take. So it’s important to be medicinewise by remembering that most medicines have two different names — an active ingredient and a brand name — and there may be more than one brand of the same medicine.


A medicine has more than one name

The active ingredient name is the name of the chemical in the medicine that makes it work. These active ingredient names are scientific and often quite difficult to remember and pronounce.

A company may therefore give their medicine another easier to say or memorable name under which the medicine is sold. This is the brand name.

What is an original brand?

This is the first patented brand of a medicine. When a pharmaceutical company develops a new active ingredient it is granted a patent for period of time during which no other company can manufacture and sell a medicine containing the same active ingredient. This means that for many years only one brand of medicine is available, and the original company has the opportunity to recoup their investment in researching and developing the new medicine.

What is a generic brand?

Once a patent expires other companies can develop their own version of the medicine. These later versions are known as generic brands. Their active ingredient name always remains the same, but they are marketed under a different brand name.

Also, due to trade mark regulations, the packaging and sometimes the medicines themselves are made to look different from each other.

So what difference will using alternative brands make?

For most people there’s no difference. What matters is the active ingredient. So if you’re offered an alternative brand you can be confident that it will work the same — either way it’s your choice.

For some people with allergies or intolerances, it's important to find out more about the inactive ingredients in your medicines. There may also be other situations that influence your decision to switch brands.

What else can I do to be medicinewise?

  • Consumers can call 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424) for more information about prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines.
  • Talk to your pharmacist or doctor about your medicine brand choices.