What You Need to Know About Prescription Drugs: Five Questions Answered

By being prepared to ask the prescriber a set of questions to be certain that the right questions have been answered in the selection of the drug: Why this drug as opposed to other alternatives? Is there a generic version of this drug available, since generic drugs have the same effect in the body as the brand version? How long has the drug been on the market, and is there evidence that the drug is better than alternatives, or at least equal to alternatives in my situation? Have there been safety concerns raised about the drug, either during the drug approval process, or subsequent to its approval?

Be cautious about "drug samples" offered as an inducement to use a new drug. More often than not these are marketing efforts by the manufacturers to get new drugs into the hands of consumers, and may result in choosing and using a "new," more expensive drug which in fact offers little advantage over existing alternatives. … Remember, it is rare to see a "sample" of high quality effective generic drugs distributed by manufacturers.

Sharon Levine is a pediatrician and associate executive director for The Permanente Medical Group of Northern California -- the largest medical group in the country -- since 1991. Levine's responsibilities include government and community relations, health policy and external affairs, and pharmacy policy and drug use management.

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