Blog | Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Pills. Lotsa, lotsa pills.

Ever get confused over the names of medicines? I do.

There’s Zantac. And Xanax. Zanaflex; Zaleplon.

But Zanaflex is also known as tizanidine. Tizanidine functions very differently than Zantac and it’s other name, ranitidine, even though they sound alike.

Every drug has (at least) two names—one proprietary, and one generic. Proprietary names are created to sound catchy by the original manufacturer, almost always under a patent. The generic names are more like chemical names, in that drugs of the same class that are similarly purposed will have common suffixes, like the cholesterol controlling pills known as “statins,” or the cardiac medications known as “beta-blockers” (whose names end with ‘-olol’).

As Theresa Brown points out in her most recent “Bedside” column, this is a recipe for disaster.

One way to cope with this issue in the medical world is to insist on the use of generic names. One of my professors used to do that. If a medication’s trade name was used, he would insist he’d never heard of that drug.

Medical journals, though chock-full of proprietary-named drug ads, insist on generic names in their scientific articles. Better to separate the wheat from the chaff.

One addition to Brown’s piece: There’s lots of confusion over generics, too. Since any drug manufacturer is able to make and sell generics, multiple companies can make the “same” medication though the pills (because of the “inert” additives) might look entirely different.

I riffed about this previously, and the harm it caused a patient of mine.

Why not mandate a standard pill size/shape/color for generics and minimize the likelihood of error?

This post by John H. Schumann, MD, FACP, originally appeared at GlassHospital. Dr. Schumann is a general internist. His blog, GlassHospital, seeks to bring transparency to medical practice and to improve the patient experience.