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Is your pharmacy switching your meds?

July 28, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
A consumer warning: your pharmacy could be switching your medications without either your knowledge or your doctor's consent.While the practice is legal in most states, it can have dangerous results, as in the case of Amy Detrick who suffers from epilepsy. After trying out several drugs, Detrick and her doctor found the right medication to help prevent her seizures.

"When you get to that place where your seizures are under control with a dosage that's correct, you don't want to mess with it," said Detrick.

But Detrick says a pharmacy switched her to a different drug without her permission. A short time later, she suffered a seizure while riding a bike.

"Ended up in the emergency room with a broken leg and fractured my orbital, my eye socket," said Detrick, "Had I been behind the wheel of a car, I could have caused an accident. I could have, you know, put my car around a telephone pole."

Detrick's neurologist, Dr. J. Layne Moore, said the pharmacy did not inform him of the change either.

"Change in the blood level because they get a different kind of medication can be a big problem," said Dr. Moore. "If it gets too high, she feels badly, too low, she has seizures."

The switching of drugs is called "therapeutic substitution," giving a patient a cheaper medication in the same class of drugs. Sometimes, the change can simply be from a name brand to a generic; but it can also be to an entirely different medicine. Cholesterol-lowering drugs, antidepressants, epilepsy medications and drugs that reduce stomach acid are switched the most.

Sally Greenberg, with the National Consumers League, thinks the practice should be outlawed.

"We believe that if a patient is switched from one drug to another," said Greenberg, "It should not be legal unless the patient and the doctor have been informed and are on board with the switch."

The NCL recently conducted a survey and found that two-thirds of people who had their prescriptions switched were never told. Greenberg said that the motive for switching drugs is money. "Insurance companies absolutely are putting pressure on doctors to switch people, they're putting pressure on pharmacies to switch people."

America's Health Insurance Plans, an industry group, told "Good Morning America" that patient safety is a top priority, and that insurance companies push for a switch only so that medications will be more affordable for patients.

The American Pharmacists Association said prescriptions should only be switched with the doctor's permission and when it is best for the patient. However, according to Kristen Binaso with the APA, "Pharmacists do a lot of different things to protect your safety and your health but I think the patients too need to start realizing that, you know, in some cases it's good to ask questions."

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