Many people take medications daily. The elderly, in particular, tend to take multiple pills per day. These people depend on these pills, but they also depend on their routine and being able to depend on knowing which pill is which. So what happens when a pill is changed? What happens when the color or shape of a pill changes? How much of a difference does this really make? It might surprise you to know, that these changes can turn a drug that is supposed to improve their health into something that is deadly.
The Generic Problem
Many brand name medications have lost their patent protection over the years, leading to the development of generic equivalents to a drug. Now, don’t get me wrong. Generic drugs are a good thing. They are as safe and effective as any brand name drug and are generally less expensive, which is a blessing for those on low incomes. Americans have saved approximately $1.2 trillion by simply switching to generic medications. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate the appearance of generic medications. This means that there is no consistency in what these drugs look like. It is becoming increasingly common for patients to have their medications switched to a generic brand to save insurance companies, pharmacies, and hospitals money. This action results in many people refilling a prescription only to find the medication looks different.
What Does Color and Shape Have to Do with It?
Many elderly people will tell you what pills they take based on the pill’s description. They take the yellow, pink, and round white ones in the morning and they take the blue and square white ones before bed. If you ask them what medication they take for their blood pressure, they won’t say they take Avapro. Instead, they will say they take the white oval pill. They won’t say they take the blood-thinner, Coumadin. Instead they will say they take the blue pill. Lipitor, the cholesterol-lowering medication, is a good example. The brand name pill is a white oval shape, but there are many generic versions out there, all of which differ in color and shape from the brand name and from each other. Some generic Atorvastatin pills are round instead of oval or yellow instead of white.
Effect on Patients
Patients whose medication is switched, may lose faith in their doctor, pharmacy, and medication. They might not feel the medication is as effective or safe as what they were previously taking. Changes in color and shape can also interfere with their medication schedule and changes in the shape of the medication will have a greater effect than changes in the color. Patients might not only stop taking a certain medication, they might double up on another one. The U.S. government estimates that over 125,000 people die each year as a result of not taking their medication properly. For example, those who forget the antihypertensive medication Atenolol can experience something known as a “rebound effect” in which their blood pressure actually spikes dangerously high. Those who take Metformin to control their diabetes would suffer nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. If long-term overdose occurs, an abnormal heartbeat, dizziness, sweating, and fainting can occur. In other words, patients who double their dose of medication can overdose, increasing the risk of side effects and endangering their health.
If you find your prescription medication has suddenly changed, then rest assured it will work just as well as what you were taking previously. If you have any concerns, then talk with your doctor or pharmacist about it. And don’t stop taking your medication without first discussing the decision with your doctor.68