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Are generic drugs as safe and effective as brand name drugs?

DocPatient.jpg(Chicopee, Mass.)-Media largely overlooked an article in the Wall Street Journal (Health, Apr. 22) offering an analysis of generic drugs vs. brand name drugs. In her article, Melinda Beck noted problems a Charleston psychiatrist observed in some of his patients who switched from a brand to a generic. I reported on this phenomenon in the 1980s when I edited a trade magazine for a professional organization for pharmacists. That reporting went largely unnoticed as well. Beck offers solid advice: "If you need to switch to a generic from a brand name for cost reasons, monitor your symptoms and review them with your doctor. Assess whether it's worth it to you to pay more. (There are some medications, particularly for thyroid and blood conditions, in which substitutions are never advised.)"

I’ve had a single bad experience with a generic. I’ve only had to use a prescription drug on approximately 5-6 occasions during the last 20 years.  About 10 years ago I developed a respiratory infection. My doctor prescribed an antibiotic and some sort of decongestant. I took a single decongestant tab and within minutes my heart began to race even faster than it did the first time I laid eyes on my husband. I phoned the pharmacist and he noted there was a different inert ingredient in the generic. Needless to say, I didn’t take another decongestant tab, generic or brand. I took my mother’s advice and boiled a big pot of water, threw a towel over my head and let the steam do the work. The antibiotic of course was necessary, and within days I felt much better. It’s a blessing I don’t have to take any medication on an ongoing basis, but for those who do, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor and just as important, talk to the often overlooked member of your healthcare team, your pharmacist. Pharmacists are the drug gurus, not doctors. I’d also like to point out that if there is a natural means of dealing with your illness, such as lifestyle changes or changes in diet, ask about that option.

The WSJ article cites testing by ConsumerLab.com. I took a look at this company’s website and found the tests conducted don’t rely on healthcare dollars but rather on revenue generated by publications, information and testing. I’d say Consumer Lab is a good guy in the marketplace. If you take a look at key management, there’s certainly a lot of professional credibility.

For many, generics provide a cost-effective means of dealing with illness. But it’s my opinion you can never be too careful when you’re going to pop a pill. If people viewed the risks in the same manner we view illegal drugs, there might be fewer adverse reactions and lives might be saved as well. If you think that statement sounds like overkill, consider this excerpt from testimony about adverse drug events given by the FDS’s Janet Woodcock in 2000 to the US Dept. of Health and Human Services:

For example, it is estimated that up to ten percent of hospital admissions to medical wards are drug-related, and 50 percent of those are preventable. Using a consensus panel method, Bootman et al estimated that the cost in the U.S. from ADRs incurred in the outpatient setting exceeds 75 billion dollars annually…

Don’t you think $75 billion bucks is a lot of healthcare dollars, and even more, that it represents a lot of suffering? With generic or brand drugs, research results are given in bean counter mode. If you’re in the percentage that might experience ill effects, it’ll do your body lots of good to have facts in hand before you pop that pill.

(Photo courtesy National Institutes of Health; story by Kay B. Day)

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Reader Comments (2)

Eighty percent of the active ingredients in all U.S. drugs—generic and branded—are now made in foreign countries. In fact, most brand-name drugs are produced in the same countries and often the same factories as their generic counterparts. There have been concerns about generic drugs made overseas, but there have been reports of problems with brand-name drugs, too. For example, in 2009 the FDA took action against a generic drugmaker for falsifying data and test results at one of its facilities in India. The previous year, an FDA investigation found that the active ingredient in branded versions of the blood thinner heparin, made in China, had been contaminated. The agency has not had have sufficient resources or access to inspect foreign facilities as often as it does domestic ones. Buy generic drugs online and save your money.

March 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmmymickens

The ruling allows Indian makers of generic medicines to continue making affordable versions of the medicine, used to treat chronic myeloid leukaemia, which kills 80-90 per cent of sufferers

October 14, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjodywood

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