The Attack of the Generic Meds

So I was in Wal-Mart yesterday at the prescription counter. Had two renewals to pick up. One was Losartan, for blood pressure. W-M had sent me a text that it was ready. The other was — well, another blood thing.

There was a line. It was moving slow. I was pressed for time.

A harried-looking clerk called “Next.” I was next. I told her my name and birthdate. She went rummaging among the long row of white plastic bags hanging on a rack, then walked to a corner of the back and murmured to another clerk, who was tapping on a computer screen.

She came back looking more harried. “They’re both not ready,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

“But they sent me a text, at least about the Losartan.”

She sighed. “Yes, but there’s been more recalls of it. We don’t have any.” The other one was tied up somehow too. I left with no med refills.

 This was not a matter of money: their prices were tolerable. I had heard about the recalls.

Not only from the “mainstream media,” but also from the FDA’s most persistent gadfly critics, Joe & Terry Graedon, who operate the People’s Pharmacy. They recently reported, with an appropriate bit of snark, “Another Day Another Losartan Recall | Can We Trust the FDA?”Adding, “Are you one of the millions of people taking an ARB for hypertension like losartan or valsartan? Did you know there’s a NEW losartan recall? Are you fed up?”

{NOTE: The Graedons are Quakers, and their well-informed site is a fine example of speaking truth to power, Big Pharma being one of the main financial, political, and cultural superpowers of our day.}

And yes, I’m one of the millions who take blood pressure meds, including Losartan. The reported problems with much Losartan have to do with contaminated batches produced by Chinese & Indian manufacturers: they include chemicals that seem to be carcinogenic.

(Hmmm. Trading heart disease for cancer; now there’s a different idea . . .)

Well, I was taking the stuff; I’m on an involuntary hiatus at the moment.  (I have some left of the other one I was seeking, so maybe that will be straightened out before they’re gone too. Maybe . . .)

But the generic issue won’t go away when the new bottle of Losartan arrives. For years the Graedons have been collecting adverse reports about FDA oversight (or lack thereof) on generics, and their site is stuffed with bad reports on safety & effectiveness. Their bulletins practically scream its rhetorical question: “Are Fears About FDA’s Generic Drug Oversight Justified?” Adding,There have been so many reports of problems with FDA’s oversight of generic drugs, we have lost count.” They also flag an extensive new investigative report by Bloomberg that is very scary.

I have other unnerving drug stories too. In 2004 I began taking a new generic version of Prilosec for esophageal strictures (If you don’t know what those are, good. Suffice to say they don’t seem to be life-threatening; they just feel like it.)

The label on the pills said, don’t take it for more than two weeks.(Same warning is on name-brand Prilosec.)

I asked the Doc about that; he shrugged. There’s no evidence it’s bad for you, he said. Don’t worry.

But I’ve been a reporter too long to swallow that: “No evidence” about a new drug (or new use of an old one) does NOT mean “It’s safe.” It means there haven’t been enough people using the new drug or the new regimen for long enough to discover what the effects of long-term use will turn out to be. That takes time and careful information-gathering.

But meantime, the Prilosec (& generic versions) did its main job for me:

it stopped the esophageal strictures cold. I guess it also worked for others; soon millions of us were/are taking it.

So I put off worrying about the long-term effects. In fact, I took it happily for 13 years.

Well, happily at first. But soon the sheen wore off. After a decade, the long-term arrived: data about side effects piled up, and analysts dug through it. And I saw the reports.

What the analysts found was bad. Lots of ways bad. Everything from spikes in the incidence of softening bones to suspicions about promoting Alzheimer’s to —breaking news — solid reports about big risks of kidney damage. Read ’em and weep, all ye Prilosec takers!

So after a few years, I began to get nervous; the more data came out, the nervouser I got. Finally I went and had a bone scan; sure enough, my bones were getting soft not osteoporosis soft; not yet, but on the path.

Yikes! What was I supposed to do? The Prilosec was still keeping the esophageal episodes at bay. But kidneys, and bones and Alzheimers — oh my! (There are, I am discovering, numerous such medication dilemmas waiting for us as we get older, which many docs and Big Pharma want us to just pass whistling by.)

Anyway, I finally, reluctantly, after much hesitation & procrastination, made a tough decision: I quit Prilosec. A very tough decision. It is now well-known that quitting it brings back heartburn and such in spades — and getting past that takes a long while.

Yep that’s been true for me; and the esophageal stricture episodes reappeared too, though not as often as Back in the Pre-Prilosec Day. (Had an awful attack on Christmas; don’t get me started.)

So I’m relieved to be off. But what about Losartan? My family Doc insists I should go to a bigger dose — oh and she also wants me to go back on Prilosec, and up that dose, too.

No thanks.

The clerk fidgeted when she gave me the bad news. “I’m ready to quit,” she said. Too much confusion and trouble.

I can dig it.

And before you chide me about shopping at Wal-Mart, consider: they’re the good guys, at least in this case. They pulled the sketchy  Losartan. How many others would just have filled the bottle and let me go on my toxic way?



5 thoughts on “The Attack of the Generic Meds”

  1. I have followed the Graedons for several years and am excited to know they’re Quakers. I also follow several natural remedy sites. My nursing training has given me a more scientific view of medical “miracles”, and I pretty much don’t want to take any medicines. I’m lucky so far to only take thyroid medication regularly. But I will use medicine when needed. And, sadly, have very little confidence in the FDA.

  2. I’m a physician, and Prilosec often treats hiatus hernia regurgitation which may be assumed with carrying more weight than necessary. I have finally been able to control weight blood pressure, and elevated blood glucose by following the advice of Dr Sarah Hallberg and Dr Jason Fung toward a low carb, healthy fat diet which is against the advertising of another menace Big Food. Look into it. (I am a Friend, too)

  3. I have been taking Losarton for a decade. Haven’t even been aware or ever eeffected by recalls. I do have a dietician in PA and discuss new meds with her. I began taking a statin and she recommended one in particular that has other protective abilities.

  4. For the past ten or fifteen years I have been taking 10 or more prescriptions daily. The doctor wants me to stay on all of them after considering each one. Losartan, too. I share your feelings of trepidation, but figure if they got me to this age (70 plus) it must be working.

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