Pharmacy Question

My M-I-L is visiting and this morning is putting her array of drugs into her weekly dispenser and comments that her local drugstore changed hands (one chain to another) and that her pills all look different now.


I thought 10 mg of this-specific-drug would always be pink, and oval in shape. In fact I thought that each drug HAD to be a specific color and shape. Am I misinformed about this?

Could the change in ownership of the drugstore have introduced or dropped some generics from her regular prescriptions?



Different companies make the same generics, so depending on who makes it, the pill can look different.

Yup, you where mistaken. Name brand and generics have to have the same active ingrediants and amount of the active drug and that’s about it. They can be different colors, different inert ingrediants, different sizes or shapes, they’ll have different things stamped on them. Not only can they, but they most likely WILL be different. And yes, it’s most likely becuase they pharmacy changed hands and the new business uses a different brand.

I suppose the other thing that would have to be the same is method of ingestion. If the name brand (that the doctor wrote on the script) is a normal pill, the pharmacy couldn’t substitute it for a nasal spray or sublingual tablet.

Yes, it is most likely a generic drug issue. Generics often don’t look like the name brand pill even though they contain the same active drug. There are often multiple generic versions of a drug available as well so different chains may choose different ones resulting in a change in pill size/shape/color.

In my BNF a patented or trademarked drug will have a description beside it.
Capsules, modified release, lavender/pink, propanolol hydrochloride 160mg.
Whereas, the generics won’t, meaning they could look like anything.
Propanol (Non-Proprietary)
Tablets, propanolol hydrochloride 10mg
(brands include Angilol)

As long as it contains the active ingredient in the right amount, it can look like whatever the pharmaceutical company wants it to.

Since people seem to trust white, pink, blue and purple pills, and dislike yellow and green pills, you find a lot of generics in the “more effective” colours. I recall some study which showed red placebo to be more effective than white aspirin in controlling mild pain. Tablet colours are a marketing ploy, nothing more.

Yes, but they certainly make my job (pharmacy type) more interesting.

I have to take a handful of pills every day. Every once in a while I get some that look different. I have to check with the pharmacist and be absolutely certain that it’s merely a cosmetic change, not a mistake.

Occasionally this happens with a brand-name, and it’s usually for legal reasons. One of my pills had been 160mg, and their patent was running out. So instead of allowing generics, they were allowed to get a new patent by changing the dosage to 145mg. And the new ones look different.

A good pharmacy will alert you, either by putting a sticker on the bottle, or by telling you in person, that the pills look different than what you might be used to, but it is the same medication.

Okay, thanks everyone for setting our minds at ease. I didn’t know that generics had all that freedom of appearance.

BTW – anyone else not getting email notifications from the Dope or is it my email service provider’s spam filters only catching the legit email…again?


You have a context-free formal grammar? (What does BNF mean here?)

Sorry, the BNF is the British National Formulary, a book containing all medications licensed for use in the UK, their indications, side-effects, contra-indications, interactions, doses etc. It is published twice a year by the British Medical Association and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain. It is invaluable.


Call the pharmacy. At my workplace we can pull up your file, tell you exactly what we filled, if they were generic or name brand, and even tell you what the medication should look like. They should be able to do the same.

Sadly accidents happen and some patients get the wrong medicine. If in doubt she shouldn’t take the medication until she has confirmation that it is the right drug.

I agree with this- I would not assume it’s a different generic, I’d call and double check it. I would not take a pill that I didn’t recognize. When I worked in retail pharmacy, we always let people know if they were getting something that looked different than they were used to.

If there are markings on the tablet, you may also be able to find the pill online.

In America we have the PDR, or Physician’s Desk Reference, which is the same thing.