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People may skip generic pills if color differs from brand-name drug

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WEDNESDAY, Jan. 2 (HealthDay News) -- Differences in the color of generic drugs increase the risk that patients will stop taking their medication, which can have potentially serious consequences, a new study indicates.

Generic drugs, which account for more than 70 percent of prescriptions, provide the same health benefits as brand-name drugs but often vary in color and shape.

In this study, researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston analyzed national data on patients taking anti-epileptic drugs and found that patients were over 50 percent more likely to stop taking their medication as prescribed if they received pills that were a different color than pills they had previously taken.

This was determined from the longer time lapses in having such prescriptions refilled.

The shape of the pills did not have an effect, according to the study published online Dec. 31 in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.

Patients who stop taking anti-epileptic drugs for even a few days are at increased risk of seizure and could experience health and social consequences, the researchers pointed out in a hospital news release.

"Pill appearance has long been suspected to be linked to medication adherence, yet this is the first empirical analysis that we know of that directly links pills' physical characteristics to patients' adherence behavior," study principal investigator Dr. Aaron Kesselheim, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of pharmacoepidemiology and pharmacoeconomics, said in the news release.

"Patients should be aware that their pills may change color and shape, but that even differently appearing generic drugs are approved by the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] as being bioequivalent to their brand-name counterparts and are safe to take," Kesselheim said.

"Physicians should be aware that changes in pill appearance might explain their patients' non-adherence. Finally, pharmacists should make a point to tell patients about the change in color and shape when they change generic suppliers," he added.

Many factors affect whether patients take their medications, but allowing or requiring brand-name and generic pills to look the same may be a simple way to improve medication adherence, the researchers suggested.