Dangers of generic brand prescriptions

July 15, 2009 5:00:07 PM PDT
When you buy generic prescription medicines, you may be doing more than just saving money. Some people are having new symptoms, which can be related to generic drugs. Vicki Sepulveda had migraine headaches daily.

"They're down to 2 or 3 a month," she said. "It makes a huge difference."

She credits prescription Topamax. But when she switched to generic Topamax, she had symptoms of confusion, and inability to concentrate. She was taking 1 of 17 new Topamax generics that just came on the market.

"Some are more potent than the others and apparently, I've got a stronger version of it and that's why I'm feeling those symptoms again," she said.

Kimberly Ruyle had the opposite problem. When she took generic Topamax, her headaches increased to 12 migraines a month instead of four. She learned her generic was weaker than the brand name drug.

"He said he could up my dosage to make the generic more like the prescribed medication," she said.

Aren't generics equal to the brand name drug? No, says neurologist Randy Evans.

"Same molecule, but the amount in your blood may be lower or a little bit higher," he said.

Brand-name Topamax can cost $550 a month and a generic can cost half of that. But you should know the strength of a generic can vary. One month, the generic can be 20 percent weaker. The next month, it could be 25 percent stronger than the original drug.

"For many people, the generic will be fine," said Dr. Evans. "But some patients will be sensitive to the variations in the level and may have side effects from having a little higher concentration or it may not work quite as well."

For people with other conditions, like epilepsy and heart conditions it's even more critical to keep the medications the same.

To complicate matters even more, pharmacies may buy a different generic every month. So Houston physicians want the FDA to require generic drug manufacturers to make the generic closer to the brand-name drug.

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Christi Myers is ABC13's Healthcheck reporter

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