Differences in the colour of generic drugs increase the risk that patients will stop taking their medication, which can have potentially serious consequences, a new study indicates.
Generic drugs, which account for more than 70% of prescriptions, provide the same health benefits as brand-name drugs but often vary in colour and shape.
In this study, researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston analysed national data on patients taking anti-epileptic drugs and found that patients were over 50% more likely to stop taking their medication as prescribed if they received pills that were a different colour than pills they had previously taken.
This was determined from the longer time lapses in having such prescriptions refilled. The shape of the pills did not have an effect, according to the study published online in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.
Skipping meds bad for your health
Patients who stop taking anti-epileptic drugs for even a few days are at increased risk of seizure and could experience health and social consequences, the researchers pointed out in a hospital news release.
"Pill appearance has long been suspected to be linked to medication adherence, yet this is the first empirical analysis that we know of that directly links pills' physical characteristics to patients' adherence behaviour," study principal investigator Dr Aaron Kesselheim, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of pharmacoepidemiology and pharmacoeconomics, said in the news release.
"Patients should be aware that their pills may change colour and shape, but that even differently appearing generic drugs are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration as being bioequivalent to their brand-name counterparts and are safe to take," Kesselheim said.
Experts urged pharmacists to explain to patients
"Physicians should be aware that changes in pill appearance might explain their patients' non-adherence. Finally, pharmacists should make a point to tell patients about the change in colour and shape when they change generic suppliers," he added.
Many factors affect whether patients take their medications, but allowing or requiring brand-name and generic pills to look the same may be a simple way to improve medication adherence, the researchers suggested.
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The US Food and Drug Administration has more about medication adherence.
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