Consumers are spending "hundreds of millions of dollars" more than they have to on drugs every year, according to Federal Trade Commission Chairman Michael Pertschuk, who yesterday endorsed efforts in several states to allow the sale of no-brand-name prescription drugs.

Speaking to the National Conference on Generic Drugs, Pertschuk said recent state legislation opening up the prescription drug market to generic (no brand-name) drug substitution "will save consumers hundreds of millions of dollars a year," but conceded that most of the state laws "could work better."

Pertschuk outlined a model law the FTC is working on that would serve to aid states considering similar proposals. Presently, 38 states have some form of generic drug laws.

The FTC plan would prevent physicians from specifying a brand-name drug unless he states the particular brand is "medically necessary."

The FTC head said many doctors write the brand name merely because it is easy. "Why," Pertschuk asked, "would a busy doctor write propoxyphene hydrochloride when Darvon will do?"

Pertschuk accused the drug industry of running a "covert campaign" against generic drug legislation.

The Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association, a drug industry trade organization, denied the charge and its spokesman said that "we've opposed these laws for years and we've been upfront about it."

Sen. Gaylord Nelson (D-Wis.) also accused the drug industry of waging a "campaign of misrepresentations and deceit" in their efforts to restrict generic drugs.

"The last five commissioners of the Food and Drug Administration have insisted that there is no difference between drugs sold under their established or generic names, and those sold under trade names," Nelson told the opening session of the conference.

The conference is co-sponsored by the American Association of Retired Persons and the New York State Legislature, which recently encouraged wider use of generic drugs in statewide action.