For decades, we were told by the FDA, physicians, pharmacists and consumer organizations that generic drugs were “identical” to their brand name equivalents. We believed them. In fact, we led the charge ourselves. We absolutely believed that generic drugs were perfect in every way and that patients deserved to save money. We ranted about the price-gouging of the big brand-name drug manufacturers and encouraged everyone to demand generic alternatives whenever possible.

Our belief in the infallibility of generic drugs began to change about 10 years ago. We have repeatedly documented our concerns on the pages of this website. We have shared thousands of sad stories from readers or our syndicated newspaper column and visitors to this website. Gradually, the carefully constructed story about generic drugs being identical has started to unravel.

Now an article in Fortune Magazine by investigative reporter Katherine Eban has tugged on the thread even harder and revealed some embarrassing truths. We think you will find her report worth reading.

Should you wish to read the whole sordid tale in far greater detail, we suggest our chapter titled “Generic Drug Screwups” in our book, Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them.

We take no pleasure in this unravelling. We want ALL generic drugs to be trustworthy so that patients can save money on these crucial medications. We think it is time for the FDA to tighten its standards when it comes to generic drug approval. We believe the FDA must become more transparent and share bioequivalency data about all generic drug approvals. The American public deserves to see the bioequivalency curves and access the dissolution data on every generic drug approved in this country.

In addition, we absolutely must have 100% inspections of all foreign drug manufacturing facilities where ingredients are made for the U.S. market. These inspections should be unannounced, just as they are in the U.S. It is outrageous that FDA inspectors should have to let the companies know days or weeks in advance that they are coming to inspect the plants. And these inspections should be carried out every two years as required by law.

Finally, the FDA should randomly test both prescription and OTC drugs off pharmacy shelves in the U.S. for quality. Do these pills have the exact amount of medicine that they should and do the pills dissolve as required by law? Right now, we don’t have any way of knowing.

It is time for politicians, physicians, pharmacists and the public at large to demand what they have always assumed they were getting, ie, quality generic drugs! Politicians should make sure the FDA has sufficient resources to ensure this.

Please take a moment to read Katherine Eban’s article in Fortune.

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  1. maria

    I am going to tell my Dr. to give me the brand name,… thank you for your info, I started on generic levo 25mcg lowest for two months and just recently had my blood test retested again. I am having anxiety and no energy, and feeling exactly how you are….. My hair has been shedding and I even went to see a dermatologist and she prescribed a shampoo Ketaconazole 2% but I did some researches and one of the side effects is that it is very strong on your scalp and might even make your hair dry and shed more so I am not using it…
    I am very frustrated why these Dr. don’t care… they keep prescribing thank god I have insurance and the shampoo cost only $5.00 and I am not using it… I have dry scalp and scaling but it is not that bad so I am just going to wash my hair every three days instead of waiting it out for 5 days,..

  2. Nancydrew

    When my thyroid is under control with Brand Name Only Synthroid I lose less hair. Losing hair is one of the signs/symptoms of hypothyroidism.
    When I tried generic levothyroxine I nearly lost my mind. I felt I had ADHD, hormonal PMS and major depression all at once. I then have only taken the brand name.
    I have since learned that substituting brand name for a generic levothyroxine is often used as a prime example of the differences in drugs at medical meetings regarding medications. I am a registered nurse.

  3. DS

    I too have heard it causes hair loss. My hair, once extremely thick, did thin. For a year I have taken a spoon of black strap molasses nearly daily. My hair is darker and thicker. I think molasses has minerals that help. I have read that TSH under 1 is associated with longer life. Maybe lower TSH helps hair growth???? Doctors seem to think under 3 is great for TSH. I think hair loss would occur even faster without supplementing thyroid.

  4. Maria

    I’m taking levothyroxine h for 2 months now., I’m scared to lose my hair since I heard it can cause hair loss…. is that true????? please anyone let me know ….. I’m taking a generic for hypothyroid….

  5. DS

    Brand name drugs which have been around forever do not need to be as expensive as they are. Insurance company formularies have been a problem for me in the past. If the doctor says to get the brand name, I have to ask him to “jump through hoops” for me in writing to the insurance company, and then I have to pay about double the co-pay. I found that finding a way to deal with chronic health issues without drugs works best.
    My doctor specified brand-name Synthroid, but when he was unavailable, the doctor on call prescribed generic. I have found that the generic I have works just as well if not better, as a much lower cost. Why is Synthroid so expensive?

  6. Kellie

    I take Lamictal daily. I experience severe headaches, dizzyness and ineffective mood stabilization with the generics. How can I find out if it has been independently tested? Another frustrating aspect is that insurance doesn’t cover enough and in order to purchase the name brand, I have to go thru a bunch of red-tape. Our insurance co. only covers generics. It doesn’t seem right to be forced to choose between taking a loan to get the meds that work or accepting the bad side-effects and ineffective results. I think that if it is proven that the generics don’t work for you, the ins should pay more than it does. Two of my meds cost over $100.00 and the Lamictal is $300.00 ~ a month ~ after insurance. Crazy. And I know I am not alone!

  7. Sandy

    Is there a good source to find out if the generic you are taking is a good one or a bad one? I take Levothyroxin….the generic for Synthroid.

  8. Torrence

    I’m sick and tired of people yelling about foreign drugs, and complaining about them being made in a foreign country. And, I’ll bet most of these same people buy foreign cars. We deserve everything we get because if we can save a dime we buy it no matter where it came from. Our government and big business will get everything made at the cheapest cost for profit. The two are in cahoots. And MADE IN THE USA is a thing of the past. I remember when we did not need a global economy. We made everything in THIS country and had the best economy and best jobs in the world. That also is a thing of the past.
    Yes, I might be sounding off, but don’t you think we ought to SCREAM MADE IN AMERICA AND THEN BUY IT. The drugs we get, from who knows where, should be the turning point, but I doubt it to our own shame.

  9. MVE

    I don’t trust generic drugs either. Most of the Part D insurers are requiring generics now but I think that is a bad decision. They DON’T work… I did tell the phar. recently that I would not accept anything from India or China. Until We the people start raising ____ with the big companies, nothing is going to change……

  10. JB

    The bottom line is Generic drugs save the insurance companies money. My drug plan is with Express Scrips and when the Physician writes a prescription it is filled with a generic if that medication has one.
    We have no choice in the matter, unless the Dr. “jumps thru hoops” to assure Express Scripts that only a brand name drug is necessary. I do not believe that should be allowed if I am willing to pay the higher copay for the brand name.
    I do not trust ANY generic drug as I have had problems with at least two of them, one of which was pulled off the market years ago.

  11. dld

    From now on, I shall insist on brand names for drugs, but the question is: will the doctor comply????

  12. B. Howard

    I use a nebulizer and my prescribed solution is DuoNeb. For a long time my insurance company pharmacy gave me a generic (Sandoz) made in the U.S. which was great. Now I have one from India. The vials are almost impossible to open. Worse, the medicine does not seem to be as effective. God only knows whether it might be adulterated in some way. Since I am on an Advantage plan, the only option I have is to ask my physician to insist on the name drug only, which is quite expensive. Local pharmacies also seem to be using generics from foreign countries. What can the consumer do?

  13. Fonnie H.

    Hi, I ordered the generic of Quinine Sulfate 200 mg from Canada, but it was made in China, with the UK label. I used to take 325 mg up to 2009 when they removed it from the market. I cannot get Malaria as I have an inherited anemia. But, I started taking the Quinine in the Air Force in 1960, and for many years, until it was discontinued. This new Quinine comes with a lot of reactions, and one being it affects your vision. In just one week, I have very blurred vision and blood shot eyes like someone poked me in the eyes.
    I’d like to know if anyone has ordered any prescriptions from Canada, and did you receive what you wanted with no complications??? Would you trust using meds from another country not knowing if they are approved by the FDA ??
    God bless, Fonnie

  14. Janet Shelden

    Generics are so much less expensive, we naturally want to take them. I take some but one for heart – Cardizem- I must have the Brand name and pay a lot more. I took ONE generic and was in the med. clinic, lying on a bed, feeling like I’d pass out, my heart doing strange things. WHY isn’t our FDA doing more about generics?

  15. Ladyliza

    May I make a suggestion? Find an integrative MD and tell him you want to get off of all pharmaceutical drugs, using nutritional means and herbs. I am off all but the armour thyroid, and hope to be off of this by the end of the year. An integrative md will give you blood tests for all your deficiencies and supplement just what you need. That way you won’t have to deal with all the terrible side effects. Did you know there is a natural alternative for most drugs, but the public is just unaware.

  16. paulbyr

    To see if generic “Plavix” works, just cut yourself and see if you bleed a lot.
    When I cut my forehead, I was all alone and was pretty scared for a few minutes until I wrapped my long sleeve shirt around the cut and kept it twisted tight long enough to drive myself to the urgent care. (16 stitches!) I told my Dr. I thought I would be better without Plavix, he agreed.

  17. paulbyr

    In my opinion, most generics are equivalent and just as effective. It certainly always seemed to me likely that the more complicated (biochemically) a drug was, the more dangerous to the population it would be, long term. Then, if it were copied by generic makers, there was even more danger. However, I haven’t seen much distinction between the bad effects of Zocor or Protonix and their generic in these comment pages.
    It seems to me irresponsible to blow off about the danger of generics without:
    1) comparing them to the label brand or
    2) without comparing the health damage done by a generic to the health benefit of having reasonably priced generic meds for the poorer segment of the population.
    If you or your loved one got hurt by a generic, I’m sincerely sorry.

  18. Maria

    article it’s really very informative because I am on generic thyroid meds levothyroxin and noteven sure if it’s working please let know if I should switch to synthroid…… fda should do a better job!!!!!! people can have serious health risk from this screwups

  19. Aster

    I have allergies and was prescribed Xyzal when the OTC antihistamine I was taking stopped working. I was given the generic form of Xyzal manufactured by Dr Reddys. It seemed to work just fine. Upon refilling my prescription though, I noticed the pills were shaped differently. I didn’t think much about it until my allergies started giving me problems and I was really congested. I switched to another OTC antihistamine and I got better. This was proof enough for me that some of these generics don’t work like they are supposed to.

  20. mjw

    I’ll never believe that pharmaceuticals companies are innocent of somehow ensuring that generic drugs be inferior. I can’t prove it, but I’ll bet that someone will, someday.

  21. Sue

    I have a history with Prozac. I have been on the drug for 30 years.
    Our insurance company, decided I had to go to the generic.
    It was like drinking water. No effect.
    I went back to my suicide thinking, and the way I was before Prozac.
    The fluoxetine was no good.
    It breaks my heart that people do not care about people, only money.
    I have written my insurance company and the FDA, with no hope.
    Thank you for listening.

  22. GSH

    Any one concerned about the efficacy of pharmaceuticals, brand name or generic, might want to read “Overdosed America” by John Abramson MD. It is eye-opening, tightly written and very informative.
    I have no affiliation with Dr. Abramson.

  23. PRK

    I have never TRUSTED generic drugs, (period!)! And the ones made, (God only knows where?) leave me wondering what I might be taking. I’ve had an M.D. tell me he didn’t trust some generic drugs, especially those for heart problems & for thyroid problems. And this was over 10 years ago.
    I take generics for AFIB & high blood pressure!
    At least name brand Armour is affordable for hypothyroidism.
    I say to the pharmaceutical industry, the FDA & our elected officials; bring our drugs home (MADE in AMERICA)!
    Outsourcing is a disgrace in this country. It’s all about profits.
    I am a 75 yrs old female & I am fed up with USA big corporations toying with our health.

  24. MM

    I have very bad GERD and cannnot take PPI’s due to adverse reaction. I have had GERD for as as I can remember and I am now a senior I was taking the generic Zantac 150mg twice a day and still not getting much relief. I decided since the brand name was now over the counter and something I could afford i went back to taking it. The difference was like night an day!! I have not awaken in the middle of the night with my stomach on fire!

  25. JDS

    A friend of mine with bad heart history was in Thailand when he had a bad episode. The Thai doctor looked at the pills my friend was taking and told him they were counterfeit and harming him rather than helping. The Thai doctor immediately put my friend on the “REAL” pills and he recovered quickly. My friend was taking pills purchased from a Canadian Pharmacy which turned out to come from India. The Thai’s knew about it! Why didn’t my friend’s doctor here in the U.S.A. These were not Generics, by the way.
    I’m not sure, but I think the drug was Plavix.
    Moral? Don’t trust imported drugs!

  26. D Scott

    I know the generic version of Prilosec does NOT work for me. But I am concerned now that I am on a generic Plavix. How do I know if that is not working. At least with a heartburn pill, I know right away but how can I test if the Plavix generic is doing its job?

  27. jmm

    I find this article very timely! I was on Arimidex for five years after breast cancer surgery and when the patent expired I switched to generic Arimidex. I had a concern after being supplied with pills first from Dr Reddy and then from Teva. I switched back to brand Arimidex when Astra Zeneca offered a reduced price by ordering through them. I had even commented to people that I thought the Dr Reddy pills were closer to brand Arimidex than the Teva — I don’t recall exactly what made me feel that way but I felt that the side effects were so different from each other that I was afraid I wasn’t getting the correct dose.
    After recently having a bi-lateral mastectomy to allay my concerns that cancer would return(after being fed up with constant ultrasounds and MRIs), a malignant node was discovered in one of the breasts that was removed. Perhaps if I had been on brand Arimdex constantly instead of almost a year on generics, this would not have reoccured. Now I am on pills again!

  28. JFR

    I took the Forbes article to my doctor yesterday at my regular visit. She sat there and read the entire thing, saying “hmm” every now and then. A big thanks to the Graedons for all they have done to reveal the truth about genetic drugs. There are definitely, without a doubt, some of the generics that I can’t take without their doing more harm than good. Most doctors have not yet been educated about the difference between many generics and brand name drugs.

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