Why Do the Same Drugs Look Different?

This is the title of a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). The article is about a new recent trend that generic drugs don’t look the same as brand-name medications. Although brand-name drugs and generic drugs are both approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and may be interchangeable with respect to their clinical effects, they can differ substantially in their appearance. The generic drugs can differ from brand name drugs in size, color, and shape, depending on which manufacturer is supplying the drugs.

Although generic and brand name drugs have been compared many times for efficacy both types have been shown to be of comparable clinical effectiveness.
Nevertheless, looking different poses a lot of problem for patients. It can lead to confusion by patients especially elderly using more than one drug. They have higher rates of visual or cognitive impairment complicating reliable drug use. Changing the appearance of drugs could also negatively influence compliance.

Instituting a more consistent and organized system of pill appearance would increase patient adherence, reduce the complexity of medical regimens, reduce medication error, and encourage the rational use of bioequivalent generic drugs.

It’s a long article but especially the Trade Dress and Public Health section and Conclusions are very interesting and readable.