Brand Name vs. Generic Medication: The Silent Problem

As an Aging Life Care Advisor (our profession has had a name change, but not what we do), one of the major concerns voiced by adult children is whether a parent is taking  his/her medication correctly, or for that matter, whether they are taking their medications at all.

If taking medication as prescribed is not a sufficient problem, the issue of brand name vs. generic medication, may be a silent problem. What am I talking about? A brand name drug (both over the counter and prescription drugs) is a medication that is developed by a specific pharmaceutical company. Once approved, they receive a patent from the FDA that prevents other drug companies from duplicating that drug. When the patent expires, other drug companies may now enter the playing field. Think Lipitor whose generic name is atorvastatin.

According to the FDA, the generic drug must contain the same active ingredient  that makes the drug work. It must have the same dosage strength. It must be in the same dosage form, a pill for a pill. It must have the same route into the body, if by injection, it must continue to be manufactured that way.  It must deliver the same amount of medication and in the same amount of time.

So what is the silent problem?  We all know that generics are kinder to the wallet. But beyond this, because they are now produced by multiple companies, they have different shapes, sizes and colors. This in itself may be problematic to an older adult, who gets the same medication at renewal time, but each time it may look different depending on the supplier the pharmacy is using. But here is the crucial crux of the problem: what doesn’t have to remain the same? The dyes, the fillers and the binders. This is the silent problem. Yes, the drug is substantially the same, but in unmentioned ways, it is not. The result may be allergic reactions to the particular dye, having side effects to the medication never before had, and having the effectiveness of the drug diminished due to different binders and fillers.

As an Aging Life Care Advisor, when I make a visit to a client, I am always on the “look out.” But knowing what I can’t see, brings a new dimension to these visits.  It’s not enough that it be the same medication. Pink or blue is a pleasant mystery for expectant parents, but not for seniors who need medication consistency for their wellbeing.