People will do almost anything to save a buck. They clip coupons, drive miles out of their way to get cheaper gasoline and line up at the crack of dawn for special sales.
Not surprisingly, most people are more than happy to save money on pricey prescriptions by taking generic medicine. Insurance companies coerce patients into accepting generics by charging substantially lower co-pays for such pills. In some cases, they charge four times more for a brand. An insurance company may even refuse to pay at all for certain brand name medications.
The FDA insists that the inexpensive generic drugs it approves are just as good as the pricey brand names they replace. If people complain that they experience problems with generic drugs, we are told that it is all in their heads. FDA officials believe that people expect a certain color and shape and become upset when the pills look different.
We think the problem is far more complex. Plenty of readers tell us that they are thrilled to get a generic drug at one-third the cost, as long as it works. When it doesn’t, however, people become angry. Here are just a few of the stories that have been posted to our Web site:
“I got switched to the generic Wellbutrin XL and endured one month of hell. My world crashed and suicide began to feel inevitable. Fortunately, between my psychologist and my clinical nurse specialist, we determined that the issue may have been the generic drug. Within three days of returning to Wellbutrin XL, my life was returned to me. This was a VERY scary experience! I now have to pay $45/month instead of $10/month, but I really don't have a choice. This particular generic is too dangerous for me!”
Another reader had a similar experience: “After some devastating life events last year, my husband and I were put on Wellbutrin. It was very effective. Not long ago we were switched from Wellbutrin XL to the generic. We both inexplicably gained weight. He got night sweats and I'm experiencing insomnia. We are both anxious and depressed.
“I'm sorry others have also gone through this, but I’m glad to know it isn't all in my head as my doctor seems to think. The generic costs $10 for 30 pills. It will be $110 for Wellbutrin. Who can afford that? The generic is ineffective and could cost someone his life.”
An antidepressant that leaves people suicidal is no bargain, regardless of how little it may cost. Neither is a sleeping pill that leaves folks tossing and turning: “I have been on Ambien for several years. When I went to pick my latest prescription up at the pharmacy, I was told I would be receiving the generic. I was happy about that because it was cheaper.
“I took the pill at my usual time, 9:00 PM. I am usually asleep by 9:30, but I was still wide-awake at 2:30 AM. I slept at most 2 hours. These generic Ambien are nothing like the real thing.”
We wish we could rely on the FDA’s reassurance that generic drugs are just as good as brand name products. Unless the agency starts monitoring drugstore shelves for quality, consumers are on their own. Anyone who would like to report a generic drug problem may do so at our Web site: www.peoplespharmacy.com.