Lifewatch: Generic Drugs

Reported by Claire Hosmann - email
Posted by Debra Worley - email

(WECT) - With the price of medication higher than ever, some people are buying generic versions to make them more affordable.

Most people think switching from a brand name to a generic drug is perfectly safe, but in some cases patients and doctors say all drugs are not created equal.

15-year-old Ashley Kelley never sits by the pool alone, because with one epileptic seizure she could slip into the water and drown.

"She always has this blank, blank stare on her face and you know she's not with you," said Gail Kelly, Ashley's mother.

When Ashley's seizures increased six fold a few years ago, her mother immediately started asking why.

"The only change in her lifestyle at all was that we went from brand name to generic of the same drug. It could have been very devastating for her," said Gail.

Insurance would no longer pay for the more expensive brand name drug, claiming the generic was just the same.  But, the doctor Ashley saw said they are not.

Dr. Michael Smith routinely writes 'Do Not Substitute' on prescriptions for his epilepsy patients.

He estimates that drug switching may trigger more seizures in approximately 1 in 20 epilepsy patients.

The FDA says all generic drugs are effectively the same as their brand names, but pharmacy professor Jan Engle said there can be small differences in how the drugs are absorbed by the body.

Engle says for most conditions, like high blood pressure or cholesterol, it doesn't matter.  But for a few others, including epilepsy, it does.

"It's important to talk to your pharmacist to make sure it is okay to take a generic and in some cases it's a good idea to take the same brand of generic," said Engle.

Engle recommends getting to know your pharmacists and asking which company is making your generic drug.

If you suffer side effects from the generic, write it down, tell your doctor, and report it to the FDA.

It was Gail's written log of Ashley's symptoms that helped her pinpoint the cause of her daughter's additional seizures so they could bring them back under control.

To be safe, only switch to a generic drug if your doctor says it's okay.