THOUSANDS of people suffering from epilepsy claim they are in danger of seizures if they are forced to take generic rather than branded medicines.
Beaumont Hospital neurologist Professor Norman Delanty warned that anti- epilepsy drugs should be exempt from upcoming legislation, which will allow pharmacists to substitute precriptions for branded drugs with their generic equivalents to cut costs.
In most cases, generics are the non-branded equivalent to the original drug, which has lost its exclusive patent.
But Prof Delanty said this was not the case in all medicines for epileptic patients.
The epilepsy drugs for 37,000 sufferers are carefully concentrated for each patient to ensure seizure control.
Any change in the manufacture and composition of a tablet introduces a factor that may disturb the balance and result in seizure, even if the active ingredient of the drug is not changed.
The variations in the amount of certain compounds could leave people who are stabilised on existing branded drugs in danger.
Prof Delanty was speaking yesterday as Brainwave, the Irish Epilepsy Association, appealed to TDs and Senators at Leinster House to press for epilepsy drugs to be exempted from the new legislation.
He said: "Currently, when a specific brand of medicine is prescribed for a person with epilepsy, a pharmacist can only supply that particular brand even when generic versions of the same medicine are available, which may be less expensive. This should remain the situation."
Cathy Grieve (47), who runs a video production company in Dublin, told the meeting in Leinster House yesterday that she was diagnosed with epilepsy four-and-a-half-years ago.
She suffered a seizure as she was about to board a plane at Dublin Airport and was rushed to Beaumont, where she underwent two months of tests.
"My epilepsy is uncontrolled and the drugs are not working. I am on a mixture of drugs now and we are trying to get the mixture right," she said.
"We are working really hard at getting the right combination to get me seizure free, so that I can return to normal life.
"If I get stabilised and I get a generic drug but it has only 85pc of a certain compound this week, and next week 110pc, that can trigger my seizures again."
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health told the Irish Independent that it is not proposing to "exempt any class of drugs from the provisions of the Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Bill dealing with interchangeability of medicines". She said the Irish Medicines Board will decide which medicines can be substituted. It cannot add a group of drugs to the interchangeable list where it is deemed unsafe to do so.