Like many of us, when a new drug is introduced by TV advertisement, you are flummoxed by the name. Drug names frequently appear to be a random collection of consonants and vowels that have no actual meaning (with extra “z” and “x”s thrown in). In fact, some drug companies actually use computer-generated algorithms to help them create drug names.
Why not call a drug “Cancer Buster” or something similar? The FDA prohibits naming a drug in a way that implies its effectiveness. Thus, you get a lot of nonsense-type names.
But this naming method has a serious downside – a proliferation of drugs that SOUND the same, but have very different actions and can cause serious harm when confused. From the FDA’s website, here are a few similar and easily confusable drugs:
- Serzone (nefazodone) for depression and Seroquel (quetiapine) for schizophrenia
- Lamictal (lamotrigine) for epilepsy, Lamisil (terbinafine) for nail infections, Ludiomil (maprotiline) for depression, and Lomotil (diphenoxylate) for diarrhea
- Taxotere (docetaxel) and Taxol (paclitaxel), both for chemotherapy
- Zantac (ranitidine) for heartburn, Zyrtec (cetirizine) for allergies, and Zyprexa (olanzapine) for mental conditions
- Celebrex (celecoxib) for arthritis and Celexa (citalopram) for depression.
To understand how truly dangerous this can be, consider another example, Durezol and Durasal. Durezol is an eye drop; Durasal is an acidic wart remover. Talk about two medicines you don’t want to confuse!
These confusing names make drug errors a real risk. There are multiple places along the chain of getting a prescription to you where those errors can pop up. The physician can confuse 2 similar drug names. His/her handwriting can be hard to read. The PA or nurse taking a physicians order can hear an incorrect drug and call it in wrong. A pharmacist can confuse the two names. In other words, there a multiple places between being prescribed a drug and getting it in your hands where the process can break down.
So how can you stay safe from medication errors? A few tips:
- Ask you doctor for the name of the drug s/he is prescribing and write it down yourself, especially if are given a difficult-to-read handwritten prescription;
- Also note your dosage directions – how much & when? If it doesn’t jibe with what you receive from the pharmacy, that can be a red flag;
- When filling the prescription and the pharmacist asks if you have any questions, be sure to tell him/her what you’re taking the product for. “This is for my eyes, right?”
- If something doesn’t seem right – it looks odd, the instructions don’t match with what the doctor told you, you suddenly feel ill after taking – call someone. Your pharmacist (or the pharmacy) may be available 24 hours a day and can help you be certain you have the right drug in the right dose. Your physician will also help you be sure your medicine is helping, not making you sick!
Drug names can be confusing and dangerous, so be vigilant and stay on top of your prescriptions to protect your health!