Questions Raised Over Differences Between Brand Name Rx Drugs vs. Generics

Watchdog groups found some patients reacted differently to generic brands.

ByABC News
September 24, 2014, 6:28 PM

— -- When Robin Lynn, who suffers from depression, was prescribed a generic version of a popular anti-depressant medication, she didn't think it was going to be a big deal.

"I thought that generic drugs are the exact same thing as the name brand drug," Lynn said.

But after taking Budeprion XL 300, a generic form of brand-name Wellbutrin XL, Lynn, who is from New York, said she noticed over time that the drug wasn't helping.

"I would have a lot of energy, but by middle of the day I would have no energy, I would crash, and it wasn't really controlling my depression symptoms either," she said. "My outlook on life was different in a matter of hours. I knew that was just not normal, that’s not how things are supposed to be."

Prescription Drugs: Generics, Brand Names Not the Same?

In 2007, Lynn went looking for answers and reached out to pharmacologist Joe Graedon, who wrote the best-selling book, "The People's Pharmacy," with his wife Terry Graedon, and hosts a popular radio show. Around that same time that he heard from Lynn, Graedon said he began to receive complaints about Budeprion XL 300, with users reporting some intense side-effects not seen with using the brand name drug.

"They were getting very jittery. They were experiencing headaches. They were having stomach problems, insomnia, just a whole range of side effects, and it just wasn't clearing up their depression the way the brand name drug was," Graedon said. "And some of them even expressed suicidal thoughts."

"It was like getting a shot of adrenaline first thing in the morning," Lynn said. "It would make my hands shake, my heart would pound."

Eight out of 10 prescriptions written in the United States are filled with the no-brand name, generic version of the drug prescribed by a doctor, and every year generic drugs save American consumers more than $200 billion in prescription costs.

For years, Joe and Terry Graedon were strong advocates for the use of generic drugs.

"We were huge supporters of generic drugs, because you can save an amazing amount of money," Joe Graedon said. "I mean a brand name drug for heartburn or for depression can cost a couple of hundred dollars a month. The generic might cost only $5 or $10 a month... So if they were identical, I mean, What's not to like?"

But when hundreds of people started writing in with their negative experiences with Budeprion XL 300, the Graedons became concerned and contacted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, asking them to investigate.

"Pretty much we heard nothing back," Joe Graedon said. “The FDA didn't seem very responsive to our concerns."

So Graedon decided to take the investigation into his own hands. He took the drug Budeprion XL 300 to, which independently tests generic drugs for universities, businesses, hospitals and government agencies, and asked them to test how Budeprion XL 300 dissolves, and whether it dissolves the same way as the brand-name drug, Wellbutrin XL.

The FDA mandates that generic forms of prescription medication contain the same active ingredient as the brand name, but the agency allows the generic version to use different inactive ingredients, including binders to hold the pill together and time release agents to disperse it.