On crowded drugstore shelves, over-the-counter
drug brands, such as Tylenol, Advil and NyQuil,
get the biggest play and the most shopping dollars.
But for the average consumer, brand
names often aren't the best choice. They usually
cost considerably more than off-brand drugs, which
contain identical active ingredients and are just
as strictly regulated by the federal Food and
Off-brand or store-brand OTC drugs
exist in most categories where there are brand-name
over-the-counter drugs. From pain relief to heartburn
to cold remedies, there are most likely several
store-brand and off-brand alternatives to choose
save by buying off-brand and store-brand
drugs with the same active ingredients
as the name brands.
OTC medications must, like prescription drugs, be approved by the FDA, which periodically will switch certain medications from prescription-only to nonprescription status.
Drugs available over the counter
need no physician's prescription, although they
do contain guidelines for use and information
on possible interactions with other over-the-counter
and prescription drugs.
Recent medications that have become
over the counter include Claritin, Prilosec and
The FDA is pushing for more consumer
access to drugs by switching selected medications
from prescription to over-the-counter status.
When available over the counter, drugs can be
more expensive for consumers who have insurance
than when they were available as prescription
drugs with a co-pay.
The rising number of drugs available
over the counter is all the more reason why consumers
should pay more attention to price and favor lower-cost,
off-brand drugs, says Steve Findlay at Consumers
Union, the consumer advocacy group that publishes
"There is no reason why a consumer should pay more for a brand name drug than for an off-brand with identical ingredients," says Findlay.
Due to the marketing muscle of the large consumer products companies that manufacture brand-name drugs such as Benadryl, Zantac and Cortaid, many consumers harbor the mistaken notion that such brands are safer and more reliable than their off-brand siblings.
Not so, says Findlay, who notes that "the same regulations apply to the manufacturers of off-brand, over-the-counter medications as apply to brand medications. The FDA regulates both in a fairly rigorous way."