What patients and pharmacists need to know about generic medication
New research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine identifies a potential problem linked to generic prescriptions drugs. How can a patient know if they’re taking the right medication, given the variety of pill shapes, sizes and manufacturers?
The simple answer is that you don’t know, unless your pharmacist or doctor tells you that generic medicines can look entirely different.
According to the study, not knowing if your generic meds are the right prescription might mean you won’t take them.
Needless to say, that’s a bad idea. Instead of wondering, take the medication to your pharmacist for a check.
But if you’re one of those patients who stopped taking their medication because of uncertainty, you’re not alone.
The study, conducted by researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH), found 50% of patients stop their generic medicines when they don’t look the same as their previous prescription.
First analysis links pill appearance to drug adherence
"Pill appearance has long been suspected to be linked to medication adherence, yet this is the first empirical analysis that we know of that directly links pills' physical characteristics to patients' adherence behavior," explained Aaron S. Kesselheim MD, JD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics at BWH, and principal investigator of this study in a press release.
For their study, researchers looked at patients taking medications to control seizures. They discovered interruptions in filling prescriptions were more likely when generic pills were a different color from previous refills.
Ask questions if in doubt
The researchers note the finding is important. Interrupting anti-epileptic medicines for even a short period of time can have negative health consequences.
Kesselheim advises: “Patients should be aware that their pills may change color and shape, but that even differently-appearing generic drugs are approved by the FDA as being bioequivalent to their brand-name counterparts and are safe to take. Physicians should be aware that changes in pill appearance might explain their patients' non-adherence.
Finally, pharmacists should make a point to tell patients about the change in color and shape when they change generic suppliers”, which is a fairly common practice.
The take home message is that you can know you’re taking the right generic medication when your refill looks different by taking advantage of your pharmacist’s expertise and counseling.
Often, we’re in a hurry and decline a one on one medication discussion with our local pharmacist. If you get your medications through the mail for cost savings, pick up the phone and contact your pharmacy. It’s also a great idea to take advantage of a yearly medication review that is offered through several Medicare Advantage plans.
Generic drugs come in all shapes, sizes and colors. The new finding highlights one factor that could contribute to hospitalization from medication non-adherence.
Other factors that keep patients from taking their medication include cost and adverse side effects. Never stop your meds without speaking to your physician.
Taking generic medication whenever they’re available cuts down on health care costs – but it can also make it difficult to know if you’re taking the right pill, identified in the new study. The finding is important for patients and pharmacists.
Archives of Internal Medicine
December 31, 2012