Generic drugs vary from brand name in active, inactive ingredients

posted on:
May 25, 2010

author:
JENNIFER WALKER-JOURNEY

Patients should be aware of how their prescriptions are filled because name brand drugs can be swapped with generic versions without your knowledge. For some conditions, even slight variations between brand name and generic medications can have serious consequences for users, says a group of Louisiana medical professionals.

The practice of swapping brand name drugs with less expensive generic versions is legal in most states. It saves insurance companies and even consumers money. But sometimes the generic drug isn’t as effective as the brand name medication in treating a patient’s condition.

Tara Moore found out the hard way that generic medications differ from the brand name. Her daughter was diagnosed with a rare cancer that caused a tumor in her heart. “My child is fighting for her life every day and she needs the best medicine that our technology can provide for her,” she told WDSU-TV. “Whatever the cost is, we need to make sure she gets the best care she can get.”

When she filled the prescription her doctor wrote for her daughter, she didn’t realize the pharmacist, per her health insurance provider’s instructions, had switched it to a generic brand. “I prescribed what I knew would work well,” her pediatric hematologist and oncologist said. “I knew the patient history, age, etc., wrote the prescription and could not figure out why it wasn’t working.” The answer was that it was a generic version of the drug he prescribed. And in the state of Louisiana, where Tara lives, the less expensive generics can have as much as 20 percent less or 20 percent more of the active ingredient as found in the name brand drug.

The most common drugs switched from brand name to generic include cholesterol-lowering medicines, anti-depressants, medicines that reduce stomach acid and epilepsy drugs. The switch can often have dangerous results.

In 2009, the Food and Drug Administration approved generic versions of the epilepsy drug Keppra to be marketed in the United States. Patients who had their seizure disorders managed with the brand name Keppra found that their drugs were switched out for generic versions of Keppra. The slight change in the ingredients resulted in major side effects in many of these patients. Their seizures returned or increased in occurrence. Some also suffered migraine headaches. 

To avoid any possible complications, WDSU medical editor Dr. Corey Hebert says that doctors should write “DAW” on the prescription, which means “dispense as written.” He also suggested consumers ask their pharmacist to put a note in their file that they would like to be notified before a generic is substituted for a brand name medication.

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