Generic Drugs: Dangerous Differences?

While new research suggests a generic drug health hazard, some docs urge calm.

ByABC News
October 15, 2007, 1:23 PM

Oct. 15, 2007— -- The accounts are disturbing. Patients taking a popular antidepressant who switched to its generic equivalent expected the same effects.

"I got switched to a different generic of Wellbutrin XL, and my life was destroyed," reads one account submitted to the Web site of the syndicated newspaper column The People's Pharmacy. "I became suicidal. I had not been this depressed in years. ... My experience with the generic destroyed everything in my life that was important to me."

"For the first few months, I got the Wellbutrin, then my insurance company said I had to get the generic," reads a recent post on the Web site. "I didn't think it was a problem; I'd used generics before.

"Within weeks my depression reoccurred. ... By April I was suicidal. Following a suicide attempt, I spent one week in a mental hospital. I will never take the generic [for] Wellbutrin again."

Until last week, such reports from consumers were by and large the only hints that the generic version of the antidepressant drug known as bupropion might not function in the same way as the brand-name product it was formulated to represent.

However, a report released last week by the independent testing organization has doctors divided in the debate over whether the cheaper generic versions of the drug -- as well as of many other prescription drugs -- are as safe and effective as their brand-name counterparts.

The findings could raise concerns for patients who, in trying to save money, switch to cheaper generic versions of the drugs they need.

"I think there is little doubt that our results, along with the dramatic and mounting consumer complaints, justify cautioning consumers of a potential difference," said Dr. Tod Cooperman, president of, based in Westchester, N.Y.

The research conducted -- which measured how much of the active ingredient was released from pills as they dissolved over the course of several hours -- suggested that while the active ingredient in the generic Budeprion XL 300 mg and brand-name Wellbutrin XL 300 mg products were the same, the rate at which it was released was differed.

Dr. Harold Koenig, associate professor of psychiatry and medicine at Duke University, said the discovery of any type of difference in a generic version of an antidepressant is "very worrisome."