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Prescription drugs can be expensive, especially if you’re taking several medications. Using generic drugs is one way to save money. Generics have the same active ingredients as the brand-name drugs they’re based on. But they typically cost 80-85% less, according to estimates from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). If you want to make sure you’re getting generics when possible, talk to your doctor and pharmacist.

Getting Generic Drugs

Do all drugs have generic versions?

No, but a lot do. New drugs are protected by patents, so only the company that came up with the drug can sell it. Patents generally last 17 years. Once the patent expires, other companies can get a generic version of the drug approved by the FDA and start selling it.

Generic medications go through testing for quality, strength, purity, and potency to show effectiveness before being approved by the FDA. They must have the same active ingredient and provide the same benefits.

How can I get generic drugs?

To find out if there’s a generic drug that will work just as well for you as a brand-name drug you’re taking, talk to your doctor or pharmacist. Tell them you want the most effective drug at the best price, and that you want prescriptions for generic drugs when possible.

Pharmacists can substitute generic drugs for many brand-name drugs, as long as your doctor says you don’t have to take the brand-name drug.

Will my doctor automatically prescribe generic drugs?

It depends on the doctor. Ask your doctor to write a prescription allowing the pharmacist to substitute a generic drug when it’s appropriate.

What To Know About Offers for Low-Cost Prescriptions

If you get emails, texts, or messages on social media saying free or low-cost prescription drugs are just a phone call away — or you visit a website that says it can help you get free prescription drugs for a fee — it’s likely a scam.

However, many prescription drug companies offer free or low-cost drugs for people who

  • don’t have prescription drug coverage
  • can’t afford to pay for medication out of pocket
  • have used up their insurance’s annual allowance

But your income and the cost of the drugs you need may affect your ability to qualify for discounts. Information about these programs is free and available from your doctor, pharmacists, and the government.

To Learn More

  • Visit You’ll find information on specific generic and brand-name drugs on the Drugs and Supplements page at

  • Use the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America’s (PhRMA) Medicine Assistance Tool (MAT). It gives patients, caregivers, and health care providers information to help them connect to financial assistance programs for the medicines patients need.

  • Go to or call 1-800-MEDICARE for information about a prescription drug law that went into effect January 1, 2023. If you’re on Medicare, it will help you save money.
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