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Common Misconceptions about Medications

Among the top misconceptions elderly patients (and their caregivers) have about prescriptions and over-the-counter medications is that brand name medications are better than generic versions. We also clear up confusion on the safety of herbal remedies and common non-prescription sleep aids.

Misconception: Brand name medications are better than generic ones

This is a common misconception and many of my patients are confused why the Pharmacist will automatically dispense the generic medication without considering the brand name. When a drug is first introduced into the market for consumer use it will be marketed by the drug company by its “Brand” name. What many people miss is the small font listed under the brand name drug with the generic name. Drug companies spend a lot of money getting their drugs approved and onto market for safe use by consumers. In return they are granted a patent that allows them to market the drug under the Brand name for a certain number of years to help them recoup the money they spent developing the drug. Once the drug patent expires the medication is available to market as the Generic name. A generic drug is identical to the brand name drugs active ingredient; the only thing that may possibly be different is the inactive ingredients that hold the tablet together. Often times the same drug manufacturer continues to make the medication as a generic so nothing has changed at all. So save yourself some money and stick with the generic whenever possible.

Misconception: Natural/Herbal remedies are safer than prescription medications

Many of my patients think that if something is “Natural” or “Herbal” it is safer to take than prescription medications. This is not the case, and in fact many “Natural” or “Herbal” supplements can cause a lot of harm if taken in combination with other medications. Supplements are subject to rules that apply to food rather than drugs. Therefore, they are not required to conduct the same safety and effectiveness studies that prescription drugs must go through. All prescription and over-the-counter medications must meet quality standards to ensure its effectiveness and safety. While supplements do not have that requirement, they can voluntarily submit their product for testing to ensure it actually contains what it’s supposed to and nothing additional that could be harmful. If you are taking an herbal or natural supplement look for the “USP Verified Mark” on the bottle to ensure it has been made properly.

Misconception: Over-the-counter sleep remedies are safer than prescription sleep medications

Many people think that taking over-the-counter sleep aides such as Tylenol PM is safer than taking prescription sleep aides that they get from their physician. This is very far from the truth and you could unknowingly be exposing your liver to excessive amounts of acetaminophen. Products such as Tylenol PM contain diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and acetaminophen. The main side effect of diphenhydramine is drowsiness so that is what is “helping” you fall asleep. The acetaminophen is an additional ingredient often used for pain and may not be necessary. The problem with this type of medication in someone over the age of 65 on multiple medications is that it stays in your blood stream for 8+ hours and depending on the time of day you take it, you could still be groggy when you wake up in the morning. Many prescription medications available for sleep today have a much shorter amount of time in your blood stream and can be easily stopped/started without much risk of dependency. It’s best to discuss your sleep issues with your doctor or pharmacist to explore healthy sleep habits.

To learn more about the benefits of a comprehensive medication review by a Pharmacist visit

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