When a prescription drug is approved by the Food and Drug Administration, it's protected by patent for 20 years from other manufacturers copying it and putting it on the market themselves. When the patent expires, the F-D-A allows other companies to manufacture equivalent versions. For example, 'Tylenol' is a brand-name product, while 'acetaminophen' (uh-SIT-uh-men-uh-fin) is its generic name. Generic drugs must contain the same active ingredients as the original brand-name product, as well as be identical in strength, dosage, form, and the way it's administered, such as by mouth, injection, et cetera. Last year, more than a billion prescriptions in the U-S were filled with generic pharmaceuticals. Although not all F-D-A-approved drugs are available in a generic version, those that are can offer substantial monetary savings to customers. For that reason, many insurance companies and H-M-Os recommend choosing generics over brand-name drugs whenever possible. Although the F-D-A has taken decisive action against companies found to be producing inferior products, it urges patients to discuss with their doctors whether a brand-name or generic is better in their particular cases. Sometimes a pharmacy will automatically substitute a generic drug without a patient's knowledge. Generic drugs are not without controversy. If you have doubts about generic drugs, talk to a physician.