Generic Brands: Are they really Equivalent?

When we are prescribed steroids, we sometimes choose to use the generic brand because it is cheaper. Why spend tons of money on the brand name if you can get the same cream for a lower price?

Well, we may need to rethink our bargain.

A study done in 1991 showed that not all off-brand topical steroid products hold up to their supposed counterpart.

From the abstract: “Six generic formulations of 5 topical steroids were compared for bioequivalence with their trade name counterparts using an in vivo vasoconstriction assay. Two of the six generic forms were found to show significantly less vasoconstriction then the respective trade-name topical steroids.”

Without even meaning to, you could be using a topical steroid that is less potent than the prescribed objective. I have not been able to find evidence that this has been rectified since the 1990’s. This is extremely troubling, something that needs attention if it is still an ongoing occurrence.

What is more discouraging is the fact that this relates to ALL generic drugs, not just to topical steroids.

In 2011, a Supreme court decision was made: If there is a side effect seen in a brand name drug, the company must place it on the label. However, the generic company is not under such law and does not have to share those findings on the label.

As explained by Dr. Roger Steinert in his article, Generic vs Brand-Name Drugs: An Ongoing Debate, he describes the fatal flaw of how generic drugs work. The FDA says that the generic brand must 1) use the same concentration of active ingredient as the brand name and 2) same route of administration as the brand name. However, they are not reviewed and are not as monitored as their brand name “counterpart”. This leaves an immense room for error.

So, next time you pick up that generic brand, remember what you are paying for. What a backwards world we live in…

 

Study From: A Double-Blind controlled comparison of generic and trade-name topical steroids using the vasoconstriction assay. Arch Dermatol. 1991;127(2):197-201. Olsen EA.

Topical Steroid Label Part II

Class 1 steroids, like Clobetasol Propionate, will always be the ones you see in studies showing bigger problems than less potent classes. However, that does not mean less point steroids are super safe.

So, I looked up the insert for the steroid I used, Alclometasone Dipropionate, which is a Class 6 steroid (Classes range from 1-7, 1 being the highest).

“May be used in patients 1 year of age and older, although safety efficacy of drug use for longer than 3 weeks have not been established.”

Not…. been… established. That translates into “we don’t know anymore after 3 weeks.” Also, it should NOT be used in children under 1 year old (although my personal belief is to steer clear of steroids on newborn skin).

The insert says to apply 2-3 times daily. We still see wavering views on this subject, some research showing putting on steroids creams more than once a day does not increase the likelihood of it working, but actually just increases your chances of overusing. Source

“If no improvement is seen within 2 weeks, reassessment of diagnosis may be necessary.” This doesn’t say “if this isn’t working we will just give you more potent steroids,” it states that there my need to be a reevaluation. Speak to your doctor about such matters because it is unbelievably important that you are diagnosed correctly. Perhaps you need a swab done to see if you have an infection? Or perhaps you are allergic to something inside the medication, or to a chemical or food you are use.

“In another study, Aclovate (alclometasone dipropionate) was applied to 80% of the body surface of a normal subjects twice daily for 21 days (3 weeks) with daily, 12 hour periods of whole body occlusion.” The HPA axis decreased 10% in these patients. This is a Class 6, mildly potent steroid, and within 3 weeks there was HPA axis suppression. First, 80% is almost full body, and some doctors will tell you to do that. Secondly, what is a normal subject? Someone with healthy skin? If so, someone with eczema will be even worse off since our skin barrier is damaged. Source

One of my favorite quotes is, “Topically applied Aclovate cream and ointment can be absorbed in sufficient amounts to produce systemic effects.” There is that word again: systemic. This Class 6, mildly potent steroid, can start affecting our adrenal glands. If a doctor says this isn’t true, hand them an insert.

This insert also says the same thing as Clobetasol Propionate regarding child toxicity and infection warnings. It also specified that it should not be used on diaper dermatitis.

“The following local adverse reactions have been reported…”

Who reports this? I never have. Where are these reports being made, or sent? Who sends them? Patients? Doctors? I know when I’ve stated adverse affects I’ve been told I was wrong by a doctor, so I know they weren’t reporting what I saw. I can only imagine that the list given is much smaller and/or incorrect due to lack of reporting.

But, check this out, you CAN do something: REPORT YOUR ADVERSE EFFECTS

Overall, there seems to be many unclear and unknown scientific facts about this steroid (most likely for all, but I can’t speak fairly on that since I have not read every single insert). Are we as patients supposed to be fine about this? When doctors tell us they are perfectly safe when we have concerns and see adverse affects, what evidence do they possess?

More research, management, and reporting must be done for the safety of patients.

Not Just A Dermatology Subject

Dermatologists are not the only ones allowed to prescribe topical steroids. Other persons whom prescribe these drugs are general practitioners, our family doctor. However, they are not specialized in this area. We already know some dermatologists push past the guidelines, but GPs are even less educated on steroids and all of their adverse effects if overprescribed or prescribed incorrectly.

In the FDA Evaluation and Research paper, they point out how our GPs can be truly hurting us. “… family physicians frequently prescribed betamethasone dipropionate and clotrimazole to children younger than 5 years of age and for use on genital skin disorders.”

Not only should this super potent steroid be prescribed with utmost caution to adults, but then add an anti-fungal (clotrimazole) into the mix, and you’ve got mega trouble. NEVER mix antifungals with topical steroids, and never use a steroid on a fungal infection. It is also stated in topical steroid inserts to never use these topical steroids on the genitals since it is extremely sensitive and most likely under occlusion (diaper).

This paper also talks heavily about research they constructed from 202 cases. The median age was 7 years old, a mix of both genders, and drum roll…. A median of topical steroid use for 169.3 days. That comes out to a little over 5.5 months of consecutive use. The shortest time was 1 day, and the longest was 7 years. This is why people have steroid phobia from this type of disregard for topical steroid guidelines.

If doctors wish to have the trust of their patient, then patients need to see that doctors can be trusted. We are the ones who have to endure the consequences. We are the ones who will have to suffer. There has to be open and honest communication on a level playing field. So many lives can be saved from needless pain if topical steroids were not only used strictly by a guideline (NOT by someone’s discretion), but also to know that the guideline set is correct and appropriate.

 

 

The Symptom Game

When you are sitting on your couch watching television, an advertisement may come up for a new drug. Pay attention when this happens. Listen to the commercial and take note of all the side effects that new drug may entail.

You decide you want to take that drug despite the risk. But, suddenly, you have two symptoms pop up. Your doctor says not to worry, there are drugs for those symptoms. Now, instead of one medication, you are taking three.

Then, one of your new medications is bringing on a side effect. Your doctor says don’t worry, there is a drug for that symptom. Now, instead of three medications, you are taking four.

This is how the world goes ’round. You went from one problem, to four.

Ever read the story about The Little Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly?

 

There was an Old Lady, who swallowed a fly.
But, I don’t know why, she swallowed the fly. 
Perhaps, she’ll die!
 
I know an Old Lady who swallowed a spider.
It wiggled and tickled and jiggled “inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch “the fly.
But I don’t know why she swallowed the fly.
Perhaps, she’ll die!
 
I know an Old Lady who swallowed a bird.
How absurd – to swallow a bird!
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider
It wiggled and tickled and jiggled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly. 
But I still don’t know why she swallowed the fly.
Perhaps, she’ll die!
 
I know an Old Lady who swallowed a cat.
Imagine that!  She swallowed a cat!
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird.
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider
It wiggled and tickled and jiggled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly.
But I still don’t know why she swallowed the fly.
Perhaps, she’ll die!
 
I know an Old Lady who swallowed  a dog.
What a hog!  She swallowed a dog!
She swallowed a dog to catch the cat.
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird.
Swallowed the bird to catch the spider
It wiggled and tickled and jiggled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly.
But I still don’t know why she swallowed the fly.
Perhaps, she’ll die!
 
I know an Old Lady who swallowed a goat.
It stuck in her throat, that silly old goat.
She swallowed the goat to catch the dog,
Swallowed the dog to catch the cat,
Swallowed the cat to catch the bird, 
Swallowed the bird to catch the spider 
It wiggled and tickled and jiggled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly.
But I still don’t know why she swallowed the fly.
Perhaps, she’ll die!
 
I know an Old Lady who swallowed a cow.
I don’t know how she swallowed a cow.
But, she swallowed the cow to catch the goat,
Swallowed the goat to catch the dog,
Swallowed the dog to catch the cat,
Swallowed the cat to catch the bird,
Swallowed the bird to catch the spider
It wiggled and tickled and jiggled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly.
But I still don’t know why she swallowed the fly.
Perhaps, she’ll die!
 
I know an Old Lady who swallowed a horse.
She’s DEAD, of course!

-Recorded by Dr. Mike Lockett 

 

Down the rabbit hole, further and further. Always weigh out if your first initial problem is worth potentially incurring many, many others.

They Struggle, Too

In September of this year, I had the privilege to accompany ITSAN (the International Topical Steroid Addiction Network) to the CSD/AAD conference in Washington, D.C. as a patient advocate. CSD stands for “Coalition of Skin Diseases” and AAD stands for “American Academy of Dermatology.” There were many dermatologists present, as well as non-profit groups with their patient advocates.

Before flying into D.C., I already had anxiety knowing that many dermatologists weren’t going to 1) know about Red Skin Syndrome or 2) were going to brush me us off as not real.

On the first day, we mostly met with the non-profit groups. However, the second day was geared mainly towards dermatologists. For awhile I was feeling oddly used. I knew that when we had to go speak on Capital Hill, they’d want me to share my story to get what they wanted, not because it would help me in any way about Red Skin Syndrome. So, I had mixed emotions all day long.

What didn’t help was that at the end of all the meetings Day 2, we ran into an older doctor who told us he didn’t like prescribing steroids very much. Intrigued, we sat down with him. We then entered into an hour long conversation about how his method is to dowse his patients in steroids 6x a day to get rid of the eczema. I think I stopped taking him seriously when 1) he looked at me (and I look WAY better than I have been) and told me “I’d consider you severe atopic” and 2) then went to get up and touch my face without my permission. I told him very bluntly he was not touching my face. If someone starts a sentence off with “I know this may sound conceited, because it is…”, how am I supposed to find you educated? Our conversation was getting nowhere with him and it was very disheartening.

On that same day I had met with everyone from Florida and we exchanged names and how we should go about getting business done on Capital Hill. There were two other advocates amongst all the dermatologists. One was for vitiligo, and one was for alopecia. Both of these conditions are known in the dermatology profession. When my turn came, I felt a bit of  the ‘deer in the headlights’ come on when I tried describing Red Skin Syndrome. One doctor in particular stared at me and asked,

“How old are you?”
“I’m 27.”
“Oh.”
“Why how old do you think I am?”
“I thought you were a teenager.”

Others nodded in agreement that they thought I was much younger. I felt defeated in a sense since I wasting viewed as this young, meek advocate, not the educated adult that I am.

Well, the next day, I rode into Capital Hill feeling slightly inadequate. All the legislation that we had been learning about didn’t directly affect or help my fight for awareness, but I tried to find a way for my voice, in my conscience, to matter.

At one point, I was alone with two other dermatologists. One was from the Orlando area, one was from the Melbourne area. The one from Melbourne also had his wife and son with him. While waiting to meet with our representative (Mica), we spoke to his assistant about our wants and needs. When I waited to share my story, I was able to listen to these dermatologists speak about their troubles and business woes due to how the system is run. I suddenly felt a twang of empathy for them. I believe that doctors should be regulated, but it seems the system in place is making it very difficult for them to practice good medicine. They are run down, unable to give their patients adequate attention. They are fighting with insurance companies, being forced to stay later and later at the office to finish menial paperwork, searching for affordable medications for their patients since prices have skyrocketed, and now are faced with their compounding rights being highly regulated. These are things, as a patient, I have never thought about.

So, when it came for me to speak, I felt much better speaking out for the entire group’s plight, not just my own. It helped me realize that patients are not the only ones struggling. Yes, there are plenty of doctors who still give patients a hard time about Red Skin Syndrome and need to be better educated on steroid use, but there are also doctors who are probably just so exhausted that they are going to be defensive.

The way the system is being run now is for money. Representative Mica even bluntly opened up about one of our legislative asks. There is a call for more research money, of which he whole heartedly agrees. However, when I explained our condition he said it was sad that I would most likely not see any research being funded for my condition since it doesn’t generate a profit. This may not be verbatim, but he said, “Generally they will put money into research if they know they’ll see a profitable return, but with you, they wouldn’t be getting that.”

Even HE sees the uphill battle we face. It’s unfair to push us aside because we don’t fit into their pockets.

So that is why I heavily push and advocate for PREVENTION. If the medical community was aware of the correct way to utilize topical steroids, and what the consequences are if they overprescribe them, then we have a fighting chance to keep patients away from this turmoil. And not only does the medical community need to be educated, but so does the public. Too many times we are given a medication and not taught what it is, how to use it, why we are using it, and what the side effects may be when used.

So doctors, please understand that we are just fighting for our health since the system doesn’t seem to be. And patients, please understand that doctors are fighting for their sanity since the system doesn’t seem to be.

The struggle is real. #WeNeedReform

How is this Legitimate?

This is the abstract from a review done in Australia on the effects of TCS in children.

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 3.37.33 PM

“… and their unfounded concerns…” Ya, you read that right. I’m quite concerned as to what they deem unfounded?

“Contrary to popular perceptions, (TCS) use in pediatric eczema does not cause atrophy, hypopigmentation, hypertrichosis, osteoporosis, purpura or telangiectasia when used appropriately as per guidelines.”

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 4.06.43 PM

Link for above article

It is well known that using topical steroids on children should be used with extreme caution, and if parents have questions or concerns, they didn’t just suddenly make them up in their head. No, they have undoubtedly heard things (that are likely founded) and have every right to be concerned. Often times, children even outgrow eczema. If their case is mild, there is no reason to start lathering them in topical steroids (in my personal opinion). Babies get rashes and skin blemishes. If they aren’t bothering the child or aren’t severe, perhaps finding a more natural way to deal with their skin would be best before jumping onto steroids.

A problem I also have with the “use appropriately as per guidelines” sentence is that doctors often stray from the said guidelines. If the product says to only use the drug a certain way and the doctor’s discretion is different, then there is a huge problem. No amount of “don’t worry” or “it’s totally safe” will in actuality make it safe for you to go past the 2 to 4 week rule in children. And, the larger the surface area you are told to put the steroid, the higher the potential of adverse effects (you know, those “unfounded” ones).

To further my proof, you can read the FDA Evaluation and Research paper.

Founded by three different references, it states, “… HPA axis suppression has been observed in infants and children with both high potency and low potency topical corticosteroids.” Why on earth would you put a child at an even higher risk with potent steroids when they should only be placed on the least potent steroid first, of which they could still risk having side effects if used over the guideline mark? For example, this evaluation states Fluticasone (Class 5 steroid), is said to be approved for patients 3 months old and up for a maximum of 4 weeks. Other studies show an even shorter period of 2 weeks should be utilized. The potent and super potent steroids are Class 1 and 2.

The best part of this research paper: “… the labeling of each product should advise practitioners of the appropriate duration of use of the product. The labeling should give information regarding how quickly improvement in dermatoses should occur after therapy with topical corticosteroid is started, and practitioners should be advised to discontinue the product if improvement does not occur within this time frame.”

It doesn’t say if the steroid isn’t working, immediately up their potency. It says DISCONTINUE. They need to be reassessed.This is what is supposed to happen.

Topical Steroid Label

Whenever we purchase a prescription, there is always an insert or attached label outlining that specific drug’s usage. More often than not, we toss it into the trash. What we should be doing is taking the time to read the insert because it holds extremely valuable information. However, on the contrary, there is misguided information that needs to be looked at closely.

The following is seen on the insert for Clobetasol Propionate, a Class 1 Super Potent steroid:

In bold letters: do not use for more than 2 weeks, 50g per week, because it can suppress the HPA axis.

First off, it warns not use to this for more than 14 days. What it does not say is “Do not use for more than 14 days unless your doctor thinks it’s cool.” There is a definite reason why it states that warning despite what your doctor tells you.

HPA axis suppression is not something you, or your doctor, should take lightly. You are highly increasing your chances of developing Red Skin Syndrome and creating an imbalance in your adrenal glands.

Also, what does 50g a week mean to you? Most likely nothing because you are not a doctor and have no idea how to measure out 50g.

Let’s say your doctor gave you a tube that was 60g large, and their instructions were to “use on flaring areas once a day.” That was it. That was all they told you. Well, your thighs, hands, elbow area, and neck are flaring. These areas combined, using the fingertip method, come out to around 10g a day of use. 10g x 7 days = 70g a week. That is over the maximum limit of use.

But let’s take this further. In bold, the insert states:

“Precautions: General: Clobetasol Propionate is a highly potent topical corticosteroid that has been shown to suppress the HPA axis at doses as low as 2g per day.”

2g per day! That is around 4 fingertip units a day.

2g x 7 days a week = 14g a week. So, more accurately, 50g a week is WAY too much. Even if 14g a week is seen as the ‘minimum’ to cause HPA axis suppression, that means THERE IS A POSSIBILITY it can happen with just 14g a week, which in turn shows there is a LARGE POSSIBILITY it will happen at the ‘safe usage’ of 50g a week.

That 36g difference is remarkable. This is something that rarely ever gets explained in a doctor’s office. When a doctor gives you the instruction to “use sparingly”, this is what they should be explaining to you.

But let’s move on.

When using steroids, adults are not equal to children.

“Pediatric patients may be more susceptible to systemic toxicity from equivalent doses due to their large skin surface to body mass ratios.”

First off, the word systemic should bounce out. If any doctor tells you that topical steroids “are not systemic”, they are lying to you. Just because you are not orally using them, does not mean they do not penetrate our skin and enter our system.

And two, this should put up a huge warning flag. If 14g a week is the lowest dose they saw suppression in for adults, try halving that, or even one quarter. That would be between 4g and 8g a week for small children and babies. And, because they are smaller, there is a larger chance of suppression. Besides, in bold caps, the insert says, “Use in children under 12 years of age is not recommended.” If a doctor prescribes this to a child under 12, especially a baby, know that this recommendation should read more as a forbiddance.

“If concomitant skin infections are present or develop, an appropriate antifungal or antibacterial agent should be used. If a favorable response does not occur promptly, use of clobetasol propionate should be discontinued until the infection has been adequately controlled.”

First off, you’ve got the vague “promptly” in there. Give us actual numbers, perhaps, “1-2 days”. And secondly, you should NEVER use steroids on an infection. It will just make them worse. Check out Tinea Incognito.

“#5 Patients should inform their physicians that they are using clobetasol propionate if surgery in contemplated.”

I had never heard of this before, so I do hope this information is shared in the doctor’s office and not left for the patient to (not) read in the insert.

And last, but certainly not least, in lovely bold writing, “should not be used on the face, groin, or axiliae”. This isn’t a recommendation. This is a definite warning.