Cheap drug option can be hazardous

PATIENTS tempted to switch to generic-brand medication to save money on their scripts should do so with care, says Illawarra Shoalhaven Medicare Local deputy chairman Dr Russell Pearson.

Several medicines came off patent this week, allowing for other pharmaceutical companies to make cheaper, generic-brand medicines.

However, with the federal government Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme subsidising the cheapest options, Dr Pearson said patients would see price rises in their previous medicines.

"They've got to pay the difference," he said.

The Gerringong and Shell Cove-based GP said patients would have to make a choice between the community interest of encouraging companies to develop new drugs, and the personal interest of buying the cheapest drugs.

"If the patient can afford to, they should stay with the brand they know," he said.

Dr Pearson said changing medicines could become confusing, particularly for older people on multiple medications and visiting multiple health experts.

"The risk is omitting medication or overtly doubling up - there are a number of hospital admissions and deaths in those areas," he said.

GPs can arrange for pharmacists to visit patients' homes to take stock of their medicine cupboard. Patients can also use the National Prescribing Service's Medicine Name Finder, available at www.nps.org.au/consumers/tool_and_tips/medicine_name_finder.

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