October 24, 2007
Drug Naming: Down Side of Generic Drugs
Creating a new drug brand name is challenging, because you need a name that appeals to both doctors and patients and conveys or at least implies some of the benefits - oh, yes, and hopefully something people can pronounce and will remember without the need for a saturation TV campaign.
The generic pharmaceutical names of the same medications rarely have any of the same name characteristic advantages, since they're usually based on the chemical composition of the drugs. Even doctors may have problems with correctly spelling and pronouncing these polysyllabic wonders. Contrast "Prozac" with "fluoxetine" and "Allegra" with "fexofenadine" or even "Vicodin" with "hydrocodone/acetaminophen." (Acetaminophen, incidentally, is what we, Americans, know as Tylenol.)
This may help explain why so few people in a recent study could correctly identify the medications they were taking. It's easy to confuse one of those names with something else that may sound more familiar.
On the other hand, I doubt that explains it entirely, because most doctors use brand names when discussing medications with their patients; it's the HMO pharmacy that substitutes the generic version unless specifically requested not to. By now, most people who think of themselves as taking Prozac technically aren't. Prozac has become genericized like Kleenex.
Of course, with medications that aren't household names, the brand name may not be that much more familiar or comprehensible to patients, particularly if the medication is one of several tried for the same condition.
Remembering to take the pills on schedule may be more important to patients than remembering what they're called.
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