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Preventing Medication Errors with Generic Drugs

David W. Hodges
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When a doctor writes a prescription for a medication, he or she will usually write the brand-name of the drug on the prescription; however, sometimes, the doctor will allow generic substitutions to be made. Occasionally pharmacists will automatically switch the brand-name prescription to the generic version without telling the customer or the doctor. While you would like the pharmacist to explain this to you up front, you may be asking yourself: what’s the harm in this?

Protecting Your Health While Taking Generic Prescriptions

According to the FDA, generic drugs have to live up to the same standards as and are chemically identical to brand-name drugs. In order to be approved by the FDA, the generic drug must:

  • Be bioequivalent (chemically identical to the brand-name)
  • Contain the same active ingredients
  • Have the same effective treatment
  • Contain the same purity, strength and quality
  • Have the same dosage form, safety strength and route of administration
  • Meet the same strict manufacturing regulations

The above list seems as if you can trust a pharmacist to make the switch to a generic prescription. However, in order to protect your health and prevent a drug error, you should be aware of some troubling information surrounding generic drugs.

A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at “trade dress,” which is the difference in a product’s appearance that sets it apart from its competitors. What this study found was that different appearances in medication can lead to medication errors. In fact, the study reveals that although generic drugs are required to look different than their branded counterparts, this appearance difference could be endangering public health.

Because the generic drug is mandated to look differently from the brand-name medication, it creates difficulty in distinguishing between the drugs that are chemically identical. The study suggests that the difference in appearance can be confusing for pharmacists. For example, a busy pharmacist may make a dispensing error by mistaking one generic drug for another.

Additionally, patients are also confused by the different appearance of generic drugs. This is because one generic drug could look different depending on what pharmacy the patient visits. The same drug may look different at CVS, Walgreens, or other pharmacies because there may be many different generics made by different manufacturers that supply different pharmacies.

The researchers of this study recommend that drug companies adopt a color-coding system to reduce the risk of a medication error. Until then, it is important for all customers to be aware of the drug name the doctor prescribed and to ask the pharmacist if the name on the prescription is different than what was expected. Additionally, if you are taking a generic prescription, ask the pharmacy to only refill your prescription with the same drug, from the same manufacturer, every time in order to reduce confusion.

If you were injured by a negligent pharmacist, please call Kennedy Hodges, L.L.P. at 888-526-7616 to speak with a skilled drug error lawyer during a free consultation and a FREE copy of our report, How to Make Pharmacies Pay for Injuries Caused by Medication Errors.