2003-12-26 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer
Notes On Consumer Affairs By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

Audrey PhefferAudrey Pheffer

A lot has changed since the days of apothecaries and snake-oil salesmen. The pharmaceutical industry is heavily regulated and its practices are far removed from liniments and oils that have no basis in science. However, consumers still need to be educated about the rules and regulations controlling the industry, as well as be knowledgeable regarding the treatment guidelines for pharmaceuticals prior to using them.

New York Education Law section 6826, mandates that all pharmacies provide a drug retail price list to any person who requests it. The list, maintained by the State Board of Pharmacy, contains the 150 most frequently prescribed drugs, together with their usual dosages and current selling prices. The list must also contain the statement: "Consult your pharmacist for the selection of the most economical drug product available to fill your prescription."

When filling a prescription, you should ask your physician if a lower-cost generic drug would be a good choice. If the physician wants to prescribe a brand-name drug, "Dispense as Written" ("DAW") must be specified on the prescription. If your physician does not write DAW, the pharmacy must substitute the generic equivalent of the drug prescribed if one is available.

Not all approved drugs have a generic equivalent. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can generally approve generic drugs for the marketplace as soon as the patent protection on brand name drugs expires or when a court determines that the generic product will not infringe on the innovator’s patent or that the patent is invalid. Once the generic manufacturer has cleared the way to produce the generic version, it must demonstrate to the FDA that its products are therapeutically equivalent to an approved brand-name drug in terms of safety, strength, quality, purity, performance, intended use, and other characteristics.

In contrast with the need for a prescription by a physician, over the counter (OTC) drugs can be readily obtained and used to treat myriad ailments. The FDA determines whether medications are prescription or nonprescription. This determination is based on whether or not the drug or medication is safe to be used without a prescription. Prior to taking an OTC drug, you should read carefully and understand the information on the label. It is crucial to learn the appropriate dosage, possible side-effects, and if it is safe to take with other medications if you are currently taking other OTC or prescription drugs. Aside from the interaction with other medications, learn whether there is an interaction with foods and beverages, or with health conditions like diabetes, thyroid conditions, or blood pressure. The bottle will have an expiration date. Prior to taking any OTC drug, read the expiration date to determine whether the medication needs to be thrown away.

If you experience an emergency when taking an OTC medication, such as a drug product that has been tampered with, call the FDA’s main emergency number at 1-301-443-1240. They are available twenty-four hours a day. For general information, and if you have questions about drug safety and efficacy, you can call the FDA’s Consumer Affairs Information line at 1-800-532-4440 or visit its website at www.fda.gov.

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