Even Vets Can Find Drug Names Confusing

Don't forget to refill your pet's prescription medication

Have you ever wondered why drugs have so many names? Every single drug we take for ourselves or administer to our pets can have at least two or three different names printed on a diverse array of labels. Which has a way of making things kind of confusing, don’t you think?

I got to thinking about this after reading a recent Week in Review opinion piece in the New York Times. In it, an oncology nurse wrote about the current drug-naming system and why it needs to be altered.

Titled "One Drug, Two Names, Many Problems," the article offered a convincing — and frightening — argument advancing a notion I’d never fully considered: that the system we use for naming drugs is utterly unsafe and must be changed.

A Strain on the Brain

It occurred to the author, Theresa Brown, after a terrifying incident. In the heat of a medical emergency, her mind blanked and she couldn’t recall the generic name of the drug she needed to treat her patient’s uncontrollable shaking. Though she kept her cool and everything turned out well in the end, she describes the incident as “a reminder of how needlessly dangerous our drug-labeling system is.”

After reading her account and squaring it with my own experiences, I had to vehemently agree. Our drug-naming system is perilously flawed.

Want an example? I’ll use the drug Nurse Brown couldn’t immediately recall in a crisis. In the U.S., the drug is marketed as Demerol, but it’s also available in its generic form, meperidine.

Which is confusing enough, right? But to make matters worse, other parts of the world use a variety of different generic names (pethidine, isonipecaine and spasmedal, among others), along with a long list of brand names (I counted 54 on Drugs.com).

What a headache! And a treacherous one, at that. How easy is it to mistake one for the other — or forget a name when the limitations of our packed human brains overwhelm us in an emergency (this is common, even among the best-trained minds in the medical profession)!


Join the Conversation

Like this article? Have a point of view to share? Let us know!