Over-The-Counter (OTC) Medicines

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Over-The-Counter Medicines

About Generic and Brand Names


Why do medications have more than one name?


All medications have a generic name, which is assigned to it by the United States Adopted Names Council (USAN). These generic names often contain word stems that help tell what type of medication it is. For example, the generic names for many prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines that treat heartburn and peptic ulcers end with "-prazole" — omeprazole (Prilosec), lansoprazole (Prevacid) (Figure 1), rabeprazole (Aciphex), esomeprazole (Nexium), and pantoprazole (Protonix) (please note, brand names are in parentheses for your reference).

Figure 1. This is an example of an OTC medicine used to treat heartburn. The brand name is Prevacid and the generic name is lansoprazole.

Medicines may also have one or more brand names. The drug company that makes a medicine chooses a brand name that is usually easier to say and remember than the generic name. For example, Motrin is a brand name for a medicine used to treat pain. Its generic name is ibuprofen. Motrin was chosen as a brand name by the company that first made ibuprofen. However, after the patent on Motrin ended, other manufacturers were allowed to make a generic version of the medicine, provided it met standards set by the US Food and Drug Administration. While the generic name of the medicine will always be ibuprofen, all companies that now make ibuprofen can choose a different brand name for their products. So today, Motrin and Advil are just a few of the many brand names for ibuprofen (Figure 2).

Occasionally, a company chooses not to use a specific brand name. In that case, the medicine has only a generic name.

Figure 2 (below). Two examples of brand name products of ibuprofen, Motrin (on the left) and Advil (on the right).