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In a short time you will find you are saving money on your prescription medicine, but be aware that it comes at a risk – generic drug manufacturers no longer have to warn consumers of newly discovered dangers associated with their drugs.

While a manufacturer of a brand-name medication has a duty to warn the public of increased risks associated with the medication, whether those risks are discovered before or after the drug hits the market, generic manufacturers are required only to provide the same warnings and risk information that the brand-name manufacturer provides. In short, if a generic manufacturer learns of a risk that is not accurately or adequately described in the drug’s written warnings, the generic manufacturer has no duty to warn the public unless the brand-name manufacturer does so first.

The cost of the prescription medicines used by millions of people every day is about to plummet. The next 14 months will bring generic versions of seven of the world’s 20 best-selling drugs as a result of expiring drug patents.

While brand-name drug companies are scrambling to adjust for the billions in revenue that will soon be lost, patients requiring prescription drugs will likely come out the financial winners.

It would be ridiculous to argue that this is a bad thing for most patients. Clearly, the financial benefit could be amazing. For instance, a generic version of Protonix, used for severe heartburn, now costs just $16 a month versus about $170 per month for the brand-name medication. Further, the cost of generic versions of the following brand-name drugs is expected to drop to below $10 a month:

• Lipitor (currently retails at $150/month),

• Plavix (currently retails at $200/month), and

• Diovan (currently retails at $125/month).

In addition to the financial benefit, doctors hope the lower price will increase the health of their patients. Many patients are forced to make a cost/benefit analysis on a monthly basis because they are unable to afford the medications prescribed for them. In theory, the number of patients jeopardizing their health because they are unable to afford their prescriptions will be significantly reduced when the price of these medicines falls.

But, where there is gain for patients, both financially and in overall health, the gain comes at a huge cost: generic drugs are now less safe than the name-brand versions. Although generic medicines are chemically equivalent to the original brand-name drug, they are not treated the same by the FDA, thanks to a June, 2011 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, through Justice Thomas.

Does it make sense that, with the projected increase in use of generic drugs, the Supreme Court of the United States would prevent victims injured by these same drugs from bringing failure to warn claims? That is exactly what the Supreme Court did. Here’s how this plays out: Patient A and Patient B are prescribed the same medication to treat the same condition. Patient A has her prescription filled with the brand-name medication, while Patient B has her prescription filled with a generic equivalent. Patient A and Patient B suffer identical injuries as a direct result of using the medication. That the medication increased the risk of the injury was well known to both the brand-name manufacturer and the generic manufacturer. As a result of the Supreme Court’s June, 2011 opinion, only Patient A has a right to sue the manufacturer of the medication that caused her injury. Patient B has no recourse.

Although Justice Thomas acknowledged this “unfairness” in his written opinion, speaking for the majority, his condolences are not what patients need. Patients need protection.

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