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Epilepsy Drugs: Generics Not Optimum For Some

(CBS) -- Three and a half million Americans cope with epilepsy, but the condition can be treated effectively with medications.

During Epilepsy Awareness Month, CBS 2's Vince Gerasole reports the less expensive generic options may not always be as effective.

For more than 20 years, Caroline McAteer has kept the seizers associated with epilepsy under control by taking a variety of medicines.

"I take nine of these a day and I take seven of those a day," she says.

They can be pricy too, up to $7 a pill. Over the years, she's lobbied to convince health insurers less expensive generic versions weren't in her best interest.

"My neurologist many years ago said he felt more comfortable with me staying on the brand," she says.

The U.S. Food and Drug administration approves the use of any generic drug if its ratio of amount and absorption in the blood is 80 percent to 125 percent of a brand drug.

"There are certain meds where one simply does not want to even think about generics," says Dr. Marvin Rossi, a neurologist with Rush Health Systems.

Rossi says it's caused when lots of brain cells start firing together. In these cases, a drug with only a miniscule difference from a brand prescription doesn't always guard against seizures.

McAteer knows she's lucky to have insurance that will cover brand prescriptions. She's speaking up not only to shed light on the subject but to help people better understand epilepsy.

"It's not a scary disease if you talk about it," she says.

There are about 30 drugs used to treat epilepsy. Doctors say generic forms of some are statistically equivalent to brand prescriptions. But the tiny differences in others should make patients and doctors discuss their options.

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