Managing Medications

Generic ADHD Medications vs. Name-Brand Drugs

Generic ADHD medications can save you money, but are they as safe and effective as Mydayis, Vyvanse, Evekeo, and other name-brand drugs? Learn about these lower cost prescriptions before choosing them over name-brand meds for attention deficit disorder.

what should patients know about generic vs. brnad-name prescription adhd medications?
medicine cabinet shelf with bottles of brand-name and generic prescription adhd medication

Do Generic ADHD Medications Work as Well as Name-Brand Drugs?

Generic medications used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder offer a cheap alternative to name-brand prescription drugs. For adults and children who benefit from daily ADHD medications as a part of their lifelong treatment plans, generic drugs can save thousands of dollars in costs. These drugs have become so ubiquitous that, unless otherwise specified, some insurance companies and pharmacists routinely fill prescriptions with generic versions of ADHD medications to save both the company and the patient money.

So are generic ADHD medications indistinguishable from name-brand medications – and do all generic versions deliver the same results? Does generic Ritalin (methylphenidate hydrochloride) work as well as Ritalin? What about generic Adderall? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that a generic drug is “identical” to a name-brand drug in terms of its “bioequivalence.” According to the FDA, bioequivalence includes “dosage form, safety, strength, route of administration, quality, performance characteristics, and intended use.”

By these standards, the FDA seeks to ensure that the active ingredients in generic ADHD medications are exactly the same as in their name-brand counterparts, but that’s where the uniformity may end. Compounds in generic drugs are allowed to include different binding chemicals, fillers, and colors. Generics made by different manufacturers can differ, as well, as a patient of mine named Dominic Orologio discovered when he received bright yellow methylphenidate pills.

Identical does not mean ‘same,’ says Joe Graedon, of People’s Pharmacy, a consumer advocacy website. Graedon first learned of problems with some generic ADHD medications from a parent whose child had switched from Ritalin to generic methylphenidate; the child’s teachers had noticed a difference in his behavior. Then Graedon heard from many other readers about the varied experiences they had with generic drugs to treat a range of ailments. Some recounted the success they had with the generic drug bupropion, an antidepressant, as opposed to Wellbutrin XL 300.

Concerned, Graedon hired an independent laboratory to test the two drugs. After a series of tests, the laboratory found that the active chemical in the generic form of Wellbutrin XL 300 was released at a different rate than in the name-brand medication. This variation is allowed according to the FDA, which states that a generic must provide “roughly” the same blood level of the active ingredient as the name-brand. Those blood levels can range between 80 to 125 percent of what the name-brand drug achieves. This could be the reason that people have different reactions when they switch from a name-brand drug to a generic, says Graedon. Differences in generic medications likely exist for all conditions and treatments. But, according to Graedon, it isn’t surprising that patients with behavioral, neurological, or mental health conditions will be more likely to notice that they act differently on a slightly different treatment.

[Free Download: The Ultimate Guide to ADHD Medication]

Some ADHD experts agree. Roy J. Boorady, M.D., a psychopharmacologist at the NYU Child Study Center, says that he has seen some patients who do not respond as well to generic ADD medications. Some have found generics to be less effective than their name-brand versions. However, Boorady notes, A big proportion end up doing fine going from non-generic to generic.”

Side Effects of Generic ADHD Medications

Some patients with ADHD have reported increased side effects, such as upset stomach and headaches. For those who do not respond well to generic drugs, Boorady speculates the cause could be more than just the speed at which a generic drug dispenses its active ingredient. “The difference in patients has to do with the differences in the fillers,” he says. Some patients are more sensitive to the colorings, binders, or other chemicals that are used in the generic and not the name-brand drug. Graedon compares buying generic medications to choosing a cheaper form of toilet paper. “It’s all toilet paper,” he said. “They’re all white, they serve the same purpose, but they have different comfort levels.”

How to Make the Switch to Generic ADD or ADHD Drugs

Most experts agree that many patients use generic ADHD medications successfully, and that these should remain options for treatment. Still, if you or your child is currently taking a name-brand treatment for ADHD and wants to switch to a generic, it is important to monitor any changes in behavior or symptoms. Outside observers – like teachers, spouses, or parents – often spot behavioral changes sooner than a physician, so it may be helpful to keep a log of your or your child’s symptoms to share with the doctor.

Since many physicians now start a patient on a generic version of a stimulant, keep in mind that if the treatment seems ineffective, the name-brand version – or a different form of generic of the same drug – may work well. Orologio knows now to double-check prescriptions before having them filled, making sure that the right generic medication is listed, and that the “dispense as written” box is checked. As Orologio learned, even when something is “prescribed as the same exact drug,” he says, “it can be different.”

[Read This: FAQ About ADHD Medications]

One Adult’s Story of Switching to Generic ADD Medication

Dominic Orologio, 34, began treatment for ADHD symptoms six years ago. His doctor prescribed 30 milligrams of Adderall XR, an extended-release prescription medication. Orologio’s symptoms became more manageable. For the first time in his life, he was able to focus on work at the office.

After a few years on the medication, Orologio’s normal dose was no longer effective throughout the day, a common problem for people taking ADHD medications long-term. What once gave him relief from his ADHD symptoms for most of the day now worked for only about three hours. With his doctor’s advice, Orologio began to take a higher dose of a generic version of the drug.

On his first day with this new medication, he noticed that, after 45 minutes, the generic seemed to stop working. Conditions hadn’t improved with the switch to the generic; they had worsened. Seeking consistent relief for his ADD symptoms, Orologio talked with his doctor and was put on Ritalin. The first version of Ritalin that he tried was a common generic that worked well. When he finished that prescription, he had a new prescription filled for what he thought was the same form of generic Ritalin. He noticed that his white tablets had been replaced by bright yellow ones, so he checked the label on the bottle. Sure enough, the yellow pills were also methylphenidate — the active ingredient in Ritalin — so he took one as prescribed. “Within a day it was a horror story, a complete nightmare,” says Orologio. “It was like I drank 10 cups of coffee; I was jittery and anxious.”

[Ritalin: ADHD Medication Uses, Dosage, and Side Effects]

12 Comments & Reviews

  1. I learned something recently; there are G (generic) and AG (authorized generic.) I take Adderall XR, 25 mg., originally made by Shire. The two AG manufacturers are Sandoz and Prasco. My Sandoz-manufactured Adderlall XR works very well.
    Please correct me if I’ve misunderstood and have gotten this wrong.

  2. Recently my insurance company stopped paying for the name brand & switched to the generic brands. I noticed an immediate reduction in effectiveness. Not only that but I get a different generic brand every other month & it has me all over the place. What I mean by that is some generic brands have no effect on me at all. It’s like I never even took the medication. Other generics work but not nearly as well as the name brand medication. I’ve called
    my Dr about this but it doesn’t look as though she can
    request the specific name brand. If I can’t find a solution soon I’ll probably have to switch medications.

  3. I don’t have a choice whether I take the generic or not because of my insurance. My insurance only covers generics. I would like to see if I can get back on Concerta, which may require dropping my insurance. I haven’t noticed much of a difference with Methylphenidate ER as opposed to Concerta.

  4. It’s so nice to see I’m not the only one who has had problems with generics. I was on the brand name Adderall XR 30mg 2x in morning for a decade then one day out of nowhere I was told my insurance is forcing me to start taking generic now & immediately I was extremely nauseous, I was tired all day as if I didn’t even take anything, & just nothing good. I had another generic that was a full orange capsule instead of the normal half orange half clear 30mg XR & that one was a lot better but I was given the first generic again the next month (the one that’s half orange half clear & says “M. Amphet Salts”) & I was right back to being nauseous & being so tired I felt like I swallowed sugar pills not a stimulant, but unfortunately I’m not allowed to request my brand name back or even a specific generic.. I was told to just tough it out & some people straight up didn’t even believe me which is why seeing others have problems makes me feel like I’m not crazy.

  5. I’ve worked in the Pharma industry for 20 years and I can tell you with certainty that generic drugs are definitely NOT exact copies of the brand name drugs. The reality for most medications is that they are allowed a 20% variance from the molecule they are purported to be a “copy” of. While the basic chemical compound may be very close the absorption of the medication may be as much as 20% more or less than the brand. In addition, things like the coating, fillers, coloring etc are all allowed to be totally different. The one caveat is for some drugs that have what’s called a “narrow therapeutic index”. These are drugs that are typically dosed in such small amounts (think micrograms instead of milligrams) ie: Synthroid and Coumadin. These generics have to be 88% like the brand. However, for anyone that’s taken thyroid meds you may notice that your doctor is adamant that you do not switch between brand and generic because a swing of 12% in either direction could throw you off. Anyway, the bottom line is we just need to be aware that while generics aren’t necessarily bad they are absolutely different from the brand.

  6. Just returned from Ingles pharmacy with a different generic with not a word from formerly helpful pharmacist about the change. Terrified to even take this.
    Used to be more trusting.

  7. I have been on amphetamine for over 35 years. started on desoxin 15 mg 2X daily. then DR. said they could not give that out any more. then I was put on Dexedrine 10mg time release 1 twice aday with 2 5mg taken with the time release. then for some reason the time release quit working. AT that time doc change me and other person that had same problem I can not name, but changed meds to 3 5mg in morning 2 5mg at lunch and 3 5mg in after noon, work good for about 5years. the cost at the time was 37.00 for 30 day then went to 75.00 30day, then went up to 132.00 for 30 day, then up to 2,000.00 for 30 days. that was to much. I got a job had ins. cost to me 10.00 dollers, then the same thing started to happen some were nothing some like Ritalin I got so angry I close out all my familys and mine ins. had doc change my meds to addrall worked good till about a year ago, same thing started happening I do beleave the gov. is allowing this to happen I have made complete to FDA filled out form it was not easy to change this everyone needs to do the same otherwise nothing will change because it is cheaper for everyone but us. James Foster Tombstone, AZ.

  8. Super relieved that I found this forum! It was this past April or May that I went to CVS to pick up my prescription for my Adderall XR 30mg, however when I got home I seen that I was given Amphetamine Salts er 30mg…potato/tomato right?! WRONG! I felt nauseous to the point that I couldn’t take them anymore. I confronted the Pharmacist about why he didn’t consult with me and he replied “I don’t have to.” Anyway…I later learned that my insurance was no longer going to pay for the name brand that I had been taken for the past eight and a half years! I went a month without taking ANYTHING, and that wasn’t working out so now I’m back on the generic, which for a lack of a better word just makes me feel “STUCK”.

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