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Prescription Drug Basics

Covered in this article are Frequently Asked Questions About Prescriptions and What You Need to Know: Generic Drugs vs Name Brand Drugs. But before then, the first step to becoming an informed drug user is to know your definitions. Ready? Let’s begin!

  • prescription – an instruction written by a medical practitioner that authorizes a patient to be provided a medicine or treatment.
  • medicine – a compound or preparation used for the treatment or prevention of disease, especially a drug or drugs taken by mouth
  • medication – a substance used for medical treatment, especially a medicine or drug.
  • drug – a medicine or other substance which has a physical effect on the body when ingested or otherwise introduced into the body.
  • side effect – a secondary, typically undesirable effect of a drug or medical treatment.

Great, now you know the lingo! You may still have some questions, though. Luckily for you, there are answers below.

Frequently Asked Questions

This first question is to see if you’re paying attention.

Question: What exactly is a prescription?
Answer: A prescription is an instruction written by a doctor or other medical professional that allows a patient to receive a specific medication from a pharmacist. The prescription lists the name of the patient and says in what amount, and for what length of time the medication should be used. When the doctor’s instructions are followed exactly, prescription drugs tend to be safe and effective.

Question: How does a doctor determine the prescription a person needs?
Answer: Many factors go into a doctor’s decision to prescribe a specific medication. For instance, a patient’s symptoms and medical history are very important in making this decision. Additionally, a doctor will ask patient-specific information like “Are there any other drugs you are taking right now?” and “Do you have any allergies?”

Question: Doctors prescribe prescription medications, so how can they be unsafe? Answer: Prescription medications are powerful drugs. While doctors and pharmacists take several precautions to ensure a patient’s safety, if a prescription medication is not taken exactly as directed, then the drug can cause dangerous side effects. That is why patients must follow instructions, such as “Take with food” or “Take at night.”

And even when a drug is taken correctly, it can still cause unsafe side effects. Medications affect different people differently; everybody’s bodies are different. And unfortunately, the testing that drugs undergo before being approved are limited and cannot always predict how safe a medication will be for the general public.

We’d like to thank Scholastic.com for providing the above information. If you visit their Question & Answer section here then you can learn the answers to even more Frequently Asked Questions. Their page even has great info that you can share with your teenagers about drug abuse.

Name Brand vs Generic Drugs

When a new drug is created, the drug’s manufacturers have an exclusive right to sell the drug, called a patent. During that time of exclusivity, no competing pharmaceutical company is allowed to reproduce the chemical compounds that make up that drug. The original drug makers market their new drug so both doctors and patients know about it. Because there is no competition and because the drug company has to spend money on marketing, name brand drugs tend to be highly-priced.

Once the drug company’s patent expires, competing pharmaceutical companies are allowed to re-create the drug.

HealthSmart.com defines a generic drug as:

a chemically equivalent, lower-cost version of a brand-name drug, costing 30-80% less! A brand-name drug and its generic version must have the same active ingredient, dosage, safety, strength, usage directions, quality, performance and intended use.

HealthSmart.com answers many other questions such as:

  • Are generic drugs as safe as brand-name drugs?
  • Are generic drugs as strong as brand-name drugs?
  • Do generics take longer to work?
  • Are brand-name drugs manufactured in better facilities than generic drugs?
  • If generic drugs are just as good as brand-name drugs, why do generics cost less?

Click here to get the answers!

For those of you that are visual learners, boy do we have something for you! The FDA has created a great infographic that compares name brand and generic drugs.

And for those of you who thirst for knowledge, whose brains are not yet satiated, here are two very informative pieces by the FDA:

A Quick Note on Generic Drug Safety
While it’s true that generic drugs have to go through FDA approval and have to be chemically equivalent to their name brand cousin, there are rare times where the generic drug manufacturer messes up. These incidents are not representative of generic drugs. Instead, they show that drug manufacturing and drug approval are not perfect.



  1. Prescription Drug Basics
  2. Behind the Scenes – Who’s Really in Charge of Your Pills
  3. A Drug User’s Guide to Safe Prescription Drug Use (Coming soon!)

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