Generic drug savings may come at a price

posted on:
September 16, 2010


Think generic medications are just the same as their brand name equivalents? Think again. Generics may be less expensive – a benefit for insurance providers as well as consumers – but for some, that savings may come at a price. Just ask Beverly*, who wrote to the People’s Pharmacy about the anti-seizure and bipolar drug Lamictal. The clinical nurse specialist who is also a midlevel prescriber said she has submitted 37 adverse-event reports to the Food and Drug Administration’s MedWatch program about the generic version of Lamictal, known as lamotrigine.

“Most of the adverse events involved a loss of response, but many involved a loss of response and additional side effects that did not occur with brand-name Lamictal,” Beverly told People’s Pharmacy. “When a generic for Lamictal first came on the market I was enthusiastic since I knew my patients would be paying less. But after so many patients had serious relapses of their mood disorders with generic lamotrigine formulations, I am no longer enthusiastic.”

People’s Pharmacy responded that they had received other complaints about generic Lamictal, as well as another anti-epilepsy medication, levetiracetam, known by the brand name Keppra.

While the FDA reviews generic drugs to ensure the active ingredients are equivalent, oftentimes the inactive ingredients between brand names and their generic equivalents differ. This subtle difference rarely causes problems for the general public, but some researchers say that consumers with neurological problems, such as epilepsy, may be more sensitive and experience breakthrough seizures and other side effects with switching from a brand name medication to a generic one.

While switching to a generic medication may save consumers money, experts urge neurological patients taking anti-epileptic medication to discus their condition with their health care professional before switching from a brand name to a generic or from one generic to another. 

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