Richard Burack, the medical doctor who made the term “generic drugs” a household name and helped change the prescribing habits of doctors and the dispensing practices of pharmacists, died at home on Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, at the age of 93 from heart disease.
Born in Boston on Nov. 24, 1926, to Louis and Anna (Novogrod) Burack, Dick was the youngest of their six children.
Dick attended Boston Latin School and the University of Wisconsin before Bowman Gray School of Medicine (now Wake Forest University School of Medicine) in Winston-Salem, North Carolina at the age of 19.
Upon graduation, Dr. Burack was an intern, assistant resident and later chief resident, in the Harvard Medical Service at the Boston City Hospital. During the Korean War he served in the Public Health Service as a Coast Guard medical officer assigned to Navy submarine hunters in the Pacific Ocean between the Aleutian Islands and Japan, and as medical officer for the Coast Guard Base in Boston.
Following his military service, Dr. Burack held research and academic appointments in London, England, at Harvard Medical School and entered private medical practice in Boston.
A pharmacist asked Dr. Burack to be his personal physician because he was the only doctor he knew of who wrote prescriptions using the generic names of medications and this saved his patients a lot of money.
Until then, Dr. Burack wasn’t aware of the price differences between the brand and generic versions of the same medications. This led him to write “The Handbook of Prescription Drugs,” which was published by Random House in 1967 and garnered national attention from the press, the public, the medical community, the pharmaceutical industry and Congress. The New England Journal of Medicine likened the handbook to “David standing up to Goliath.”
In 1967, he was a principal witness in the multi-year congressional investigation into “Competitive Practices in the Drug Industry” led by U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson (Wis.).
Dr. Burack believed that doctors were purchasing agents for their patients and owed them a duty to not impose costs for medicines that they couldn’t afford, and to not prescribe brand name medicines for conditions for which there were already proven and cost-effective generics available.
In the years since the handbook was first published, all states have enacted laws allowing pharmacists to substitute a therapeutically equivalent, less expensive generic in place of the brand name drug when filling a prescription. Dr. Burack served as chairman of the Massachusetts Drug Formulary Commission, which is responsible for preparing a list of interchangeable drug products in Massachusetts. Dr. Burack wrote updates of his handbook in 1970 and 1975 (with Fred J. Fox, MD).
Dick and his wife, Mary, had five children. They lived in Cambridge, then Newton, Mass., and spent a year in London, England, while Dick did cardiac research at the Hammersmith Hospital.
In 1970, the family moved to Jackson, N.H., in the Mount Washington Valley, where Dick practiced internal medicine and cardiology at the Memorial Hospital in North Conway.
Dick enjoyed downhill skiing (although he could never break the Arlberg style learned in Austria on a ski trip with Mary in 1956), hiking, watching the Red Sox, and obsessing over nonstop news coverage.
Dick spent the last portion of his career in occupational medicine, first as the Medical Director for Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co.’s steel mill in East Chicago, Ind., and then as a medical director for Allied-Signal/Honeywell Inc., in Morristown, N.J., where he set up medical programs for manufacturing facilities around the world. Dr. Burack retired in 1988 to the family home in Jackson, and took up volunteer service, consulting, writing and traveling.
Earlier in his career, Dr. Burack volunteered as a physician at the Grenfell Mission in Labrador, Canada, and in retirement he and Mary volunteered several times at the Hospital of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother in St. Lucia. Their pleasure trips took them primarily to western Europe, and regularly to Sweden, where, during travels with his young family in 1968, he reestablished connections with cousins with whom the family has grown very close over the ensuing 50 years.
At the age of 10, Dick was so intrigued by Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the radio that he learned to mimic the president’s voice. Dick’s keen ear for accents, love of reading, and clear diction made him a talented raconteur and enabled him to pay for his undergraduate education as an on-air announcer for radio station WIBA in Madison, Wis.
As a child of the Great Depression who had to work hard for his education, it is little wonder that his advice to his children and grandchildren was always “keep your nose to the grindstone.”
Dick was predeceased by his beloved wife of 65 years, Mary, in June 2019.
He is survived by his five children and their spouses, Anna and Mike Wilson of Colorado; Tom and Emilie Burack of New Hampshire; Jim and Katy Burack of Colorado; Richard and Michelle Burack of New York; and Ruth Burack-Lamberson and Paul Lamberson of Vermont; and 10 grandchildren whom he adored, Colin, Sarah, Miles, Jillian, Larsen, Beatrice, Linden, Laurel (“Poppy”), Liam and Finn.
Gifts in the memory of Dick and Mary Burack may be made to the Tin Mountain Conservation Center in Albany, N.H, the Pequawket Foundation in North Conway, N.H., the Bartlett-Jackson Ambulance Service in Bartlett, N.H. or the Gibson Center for Senior Services in North Conway.
The family extends its gratitude to all of those who provided care and comfort in recent years to Dick and Mary, including the staffs of these New Hampshire-based organizations: Timberland Home Care; Bartlett-Jackson Ambulance Service; Memorial Hospital; Concord Hospital; The Referral, Education, Assistance and Prevention program for older adults in New Hampshire (REAP); and, Visiting Nurse Home Care & Hospice of Carroll County and Western Maine.
A memorial gathering will be planned for mid-2020.