Tips for travelling with medications

Should I buy Brand-name or Generic medication?

In the end…

When a generic drug is approved by Health Canada that means the medicine is as safe and as effective as the original brand-name drug and they work the same way.

Is there a difference?

Brand Name Drugs

Sometimes called “innovator drugs”, they are initially marketed as new chemical entities and the first version is sold by the innovator manufacturer. When approved, a patent is issued which prevens other companies from selling the drug during the life of the patent. As a drug patent nears expiration, any drug manufacturer can apply to sell its generic version. Because these manufacturers did not incur the development costs (such as years of expensive research), they can sell the drug at a lower price. Once generics are allowed, the competition keeps the price down. 

Generic Drugs

Produced after the original patent expires, generic drugs are copies of brand name drugs.


Health Canada reviews and approves all drugs (brand-name and generic) before they can be sold in Canada. Health Canada mandates that a generic drug is designed to work the same way in the body as the original brand-name drug.

Further, Health Canada requires that both brandname and generic drug companies follow the same rules for the manufacturing process and for ensuring the quality of their ingredients.


Health Canada also mandates that generic drugs have the same active ingredient (the chemical that makes the drug work) and that they work the same way in the body as the brand-name drug. Generic drugs must also have the same amount of active ingredient in the prescription.

Although the active ingredients are the same, the inactive ingredients (non-medicinal ingredients, such as dyes, fillers and preservatives) may differ. This is only important if a patient has an allergy or sensitivity to one of the inactive ingredients.

Health Canada also regulates the non-medicinal ingredients for both brand-name and generic drugs and they are subject to the same approval process.

The product may also be slightly different in colour, shape, or markings, usually due to the difference in the inactive ingredients.

So, why do generic drugs cost less?

Generic drug companies don’t have the expense of researching and developing a new chemical entity.

Still, could it be unsafe to switch brands?

Some patients may have allergies or intolerances to the inactive ingredients, for example lactose, gluten, sulfites, or tartrazine.

Always discuss any medication changes with your physician and pharmacist.