I spent the vast part of my life knowing nothing at all about – prescription – drugs.
The nearest I got to anything remotely druggy was when I had appendicitis, or maybe it was when I had yet another fractured ankle. But I got this wonderful painkiller when I was lying post-operatively in my hospital bed. it was an injection and it transported me heavenwards. Seriously.
I floated above the boring old hospital bed and felt as though I was in another world. It was so good I asked for another painkilling shot. Sadly the staff must have wised up to teenage druggies. I got a painful shot in the arse and no ethereal levitation. That was my only brief dalliance with the wonderful world of opiates – or whatever it was.
Period pains, headaches, anything else – I never bothered with painkillers. Figured they would all eventually go off anyway. And they did. So when I started working in the health service and drugs became part of my job, it was a whole new world. I learned about generic prescribing.
This is an easy one. For anyone who doesn’t know – as I didn’t before I joined the NHS – generic drugs are just drugs without a brand name. So to give an example: Zovirax is a brand name cream for cold sores made by GlaxoSmithKline UK. The active ingredient in this is aciclovir. Aciclovir is what makes the difference. It doesn’t matter what the drug is called or who makes it – the active ingredient is what counts.
A few months ago I skipped off to Morrisons and, as I was stressed out of my head for no reason in particular, I had a cold sore looming. I asked at the pharmacy counter how much the Zovirax was. Seven pounds something for a tiny tube. Er, I don’t think so.
Facebook pals will know that I invariably recommend Smirnoff Blue Vodka for all oral problems – and at around eight pounds something it is far better vfm. I don’t recommend drinking the vodka though, however nice it may taste. Far too strong. Best to use as an antiseptic or mouth wash or whatever.
But back to the pharmacy counter. I pulled a face, wrung my hands, and said how expensive that was. The pharmacist said, ‘We have our own brand’ and gave me the box to look at. I compared it with the Zovirax. Exactly the same. The pharmacist watched me and helpfully told me they were the same. I parted with three quid for Morrisons’ own brand aciclovir. Not sure if it is any more effective than Smirnoff but that’s another matter.
This post is about generic prescribing and how you need to check out active ingredients. Incidentally, I have noticed that my American friends are far more clued up on generic names – whether for dog drugs or people drugs – and I wonder if that is for health insurance issues?