Check any medicine change

Written by: Jenny Cade

I’ve been prompted to write about the importance of checking any change to any of your medicines because of yet more changes to common medicines that are happening now.

These changes mean that many people will find that a medicine they’ve taken for years will be a different colour and/or shape.  These changes affect medicines many New Zealanders take to lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

The changes are the result of new deals by PHARMAC, the government agency that decides which medicines are publicly funded for New Zealanders.  PHARMAC’s role is to maximise health gains through getting the best value possible from pharmaceutical funding i.e. they aim to lower the cost of medicines to release funds for investment in other medicines. To achieve this sometimes involves a brand change.

For the public this means that a medicine may change its appearance.  The change could be from strip or foil packaging to loose tablets in a bottle; from tablets to capsules or vice versa; and/or a change in colour or shape.  Occasionally multiple changes occur!

As well as the physical changes in the appearance of a medicine there may also be a name change.

Medicines have two names, a generic or ingredient name which never changes, and a brand name which may change. In New Zealand now, typically only one brand of a medicine is funded by PHARMAC. Prescribers (e.g. your doctor) can use either the ingredient or the brand name on a prescription and we pharmacists match the medicine as written on the prescription with the appropriate brand.  So when a brand change occurs, it’s possible that the name of a medicine on the container you receive might change too.

The message I want to give is to always check any change with your pharmacist.

Most pharmacists will draw your attention to these changes – perhaps by telling you personally when you collect you medicines or by attaching a sticker to a medicine container.  Some of us aim to do both.  But if you notice a change, and haven’t been told about it, please contact your pharmacist.  Phone or visit them – no pharmacist will ever complain about you checking these details.  A mistake may have been made and it’s much better for you and us that this is identified sooner than later.

And another comment about these brand changes – a question we are always asked is “Will the new brand work the same?”

The answer is you shouldn’t notice any difference in how you feel after taking the new brand.  The newly funded medicine will have the same amount of the active ingredient and there should have the same effect as the previous brand. Medsafe, the agency that approves medicines for use in New Zealand, states that they carefully consider the safety and effectiveness of new brands before approving them and you shouldn’t notice anything different.

We know from experience that occasionally some people do and so if you do notice a change or side effect, please talk with your pharmacist or doctor about it.

This blog pro­vides gen­eral infor­ma­tion and dis­cus­sion about med­i­cine, health and related sub­jects.  The information contained in the blog and in any linked mate­ri­als, are not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.