Last February, Mary Baker, the president of the European Federation of Neurological Associations and vice president of the European Brain Council, along with 18 other medical professionals, signed an open letter to the UK’s Times Online expressing concern about the Department of Health’s proposed introduction of the Automatic Generic Substitution plan, which would allow pharmacists in the UK to substitute a generic version of a medication even if the doctor has written the prescription for a specific name brand. This proposal could serious jeopardize patient well-being, the letter expressed.

Health insurance providers and some consumers favor generic medications over brand names because they tend to be less expensive alternatives. But experts warn that just because a generic has been tested and  proven to contain the same active ingredient, it is not necessarily as safe or effective for patients.

Last year, generic versions the anti-seizure drug Keppra were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for marketing in the U.S. Keppra is used to treat seizures in patients with epilepsy and traumatic brain injuries. Consumers and doctors assumed that patients currently controlling their seizures with the brand name medication could easily switch to an alternative. But serious injuries and a return of seizures began occurring in patients who had switched from brand name Keppra to a generic version.

Generic drugs may have identical active ingredients but the inactive ingredients, such as dyes and fillers, often differ. For neurological patients whose systems can be more sensitive, that slight change can trigger a return of seizures and other symptoms.

“Patient safety should be at the core of all prescribing decisions and the first priority in every case. Only the prescribing doctor or nurse knows the patient’s medical history. Substitutions should never be made without their consent and awareness,” the letter urges.

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