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Naming of drugs: pass the epinephrine, please

BMJ 1996; 312 doi: (Published 25 May 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;312:1315
  1. Cf George
  1. Professor of clinical pharmacology University of Southampton, Southampton SO16 7PX

    Confusion over international differences may put patients at risk

    The prescribing, supply, and consumption of medicines are common occurrences. In 1994 over 300 million prescriptions were issued in Britain. The drugs involved were referred to either by their proprietary or approved names. Proprietary names are often catchy and easy to remember, and their biological activity is consistent, as opposed to certain generics, for which considerable biological non-equivalence has been shown.1 However, using proprietary names has disadvantages. Firstly, most of them give little idea of the nature of the active ingredients, especially in the case of compound preparations. Secondly, proprietary names encourage illogical prescribing: products whose names begin with the letters in the first half of the alphabet are prescribed significantly more often than those from the latter half. A third problem is the fact that there is little or no international consistency among proprietary names.

    By contrast, although the approved name may be more difficult to remember and complex to write, it often reveals the therapeutic category from which the drug is drawn. The approved name can indicate that a drug has more than one active ingredient, and use of generic drugs can lead …

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