NewYorkUniversity
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Mitchell Russell Stern

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An Adverse Reaction: FDA Regulation of Generic Drug Labeleing

Mitchell Russell Stern

Thanks to a streamlined approval process under the 1984 Hatch-Waxman Act, generic drugs have largely helped make prescription medications in the United States more affordable by providing an essentially identical product at a lower price. While generics may appear to be a perfect substitute for brand-name pharmaceuticals, consumers injured by prescription drugs may encounter an unexpected difference: because federal regulations severely restrict the ability of generic manufacturers to unilaterally update their warning labels, the Supreme Court has held that many products liability claims against generic manufacturers are pre-empted. At the same time, the Court has held that identical claims against brand name manufacturers remain viable. In response, the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently proposed a rule that would purportedly “fix” this asymmetry by allowing generic manufacturers to make labeling changes without prior FDA approval, even if it results in a brand-name drug and its generic “equivalent” bearing different warning labels.

This Note argues that the FDA’s response, while well intentioned, loses the forest for the trees by overvaluing compensation for injured consumers at the expense of low-cost generic drugs and accurate, consistent information for consumers. Instead, both the Agency and consumers injured by generic drugs should focus on discrepancies that already exist—that violate FDA regulations—between generic and brand name labels. Such cases not only present an information problem that should be corrected, but they may also provide a viable avenue for litigating products liability claims. While there is currently a circuit split on the issue, this Note explains why these failure-to-update claims should not be preempted. Moreover, given that such differences may occur in a majority of generic drug labels, these claims offer the possibility of recovery for a significant number of consumers.