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Over-the-Counter Brand Name Medication Spin-offs

Every nonprescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medication has two different names. One name is the brand name, and the other is called the generic name. The brand name is given to a medication by the medication’s manufacturer. The generic name refers to the active ingredient(s)—ingredients that work to treat your symptoms or condition—contained in the product. An example would be the fever reducer commonly known as Tylenol. Tylenol is the brand name, and acetaminophen is the generic name. As part of a marketing strategy, manufacturers often use a medication’s familiar brand name in the name of other products that may have a similar use. However, the active ingredients in the other version(s) may not be the same as what is in the original product. Products with different names can be confusing, so be sure to ask your pharmacist to help you find the medication that meets your needs.

What are active ingredients?
The active ingredient(s) in a medication are those that have an effect on the body. Each OTC medication has a section of the package label that lists its active ingredient(s).

Why do manufacturers create brand spin-offs?
Manufacturers create brand spin-offs because they offer an opportunity to reach more people. For example, some people may be interested in a non-drowsy version of their preferred medication. Another reason relates to brand loyalty. If people trust the original version of the medication, then they are more likely to try another version with the same name. This means that, even though the brand name is the same, the medication may not work in the same way as the original medication.

Examples of OTC Medications with Brand Name Spin-offs

Brand name Active ingredient
Dramamine Original Formula Dimenhydrinate
Dramamine All Day Less Drowsy Meclizine
Dramamine Non-Drowsy Naturals Ginger root
Dulcolax Stool Softener Docusate sodium
Dulcolax Laxative Bisacodyl
Allegra Fexofenadine
Allegra Anti-itch Cooling Relief Cream Diphenhydramine and allantoin

When choosing an OTC medication, do not rely on the brand name alone. Always ask your pharmacist or doctor if you have any questions about which medication is right for you.

By Samantha Burton, Pharm.D., Medication Safety, Quality, and Informatics Fellow, Saint Vincent Hospital/MCPHS University, Worcester, MA