It’s What’s On The Outside That Counts, When It Comes To Taking Pills

Many people know the color of their brand name prescription pill. But, when given a generic pill, whose color is usually different than the name brand pill, patients are less likely to recognize the generic form. A new study from researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found people are up to 50 percent more likely to stop taking a generic medication if it is a different color than it’s name brand equivalent.

Generic drugs must be “bio-equivalent” to a name brand version, which means they must be identical in dosage form, strength, route of administration, quality, intended use, and clinical efficacy. But the FDA, the US Food & Drug Administration, does not require that the pills look the same. In the US, more than 70 percent of drugs dispensed are generic drugs, but they only account for 16 percent of spending. Generic drug prescriptions are expected to increase even more as some of the top-selling brand name medications go “off patent” according to CNN.

According to Live Science, the Study’s author Dr. Aaron Kesselheim, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical Schools said:

“Changes in the physical appearance of pills may be causing some confusion among patients. In talking with my patients, this issue comes up a lot. They don’t understand why their pill looks different.”

Kesselheim studied antiepileptic drugs due to the fact that epilepsy is a common disease that affects up to two percent of the general population and that skipping medication for one day is harmful to these patients.

The study looked at 11,472 patients who did not refill their generic drug prescription for up to 10 days. Then, researchers compared the patients who were late filling their prescriptions with 50,050 patients who refilled their generic prescriptions regularly. They found that the patients whose medication changed color were 27 percent more likely not to refill it than the people whose pill color hadn’t changed. Additionally, 53 percent who were diagnosed with epilepsy did not refill their drug prescriptions if the pill color had changed.

Researchers said the study did have limitations because they only examined antiepileptic drugs and didn’t determine whether the color changes affected the health of patients.

Despite the limitations Kesselheim said, “Based on our results the FDA would be justified in taking a similar posture about new generic drugs that differ in color.”