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December 5, 2007

Dennis Quaid’s Lawsuit Shines Spotlight on Pharmaceutical Naming and Branding Practices

Prescription drug packagingDennis Quaid’s upcoming lawsuit against a drug maker will bring a great deal of public focus on the kind of unclear packaging and labeling on pharmaceuticals that led to his newborn twins being administered an overdose of a blood thinner in a hospital. Two very different dosages were packaged in similar vials with blue backgrounds, leading to the near death of his children recently and the death of three children in Indianapolis hospitals last year.

Product naming and branding has a double duty when it comes to pharmaceuticals: not only do the names and packaging have to help sell the brand, but they also have to be clear enough to prevent confusion on the hospital floor. Over ten years ago the New England Journal of Medicine printed an article expressing concern over the similarities in the brand naming of Lanoxin and Levoxine. Other forums discuss the death of an eight year old who was given methadone instead of methylphenidate while a nineteen year old man showed "potentially fatal complications" after being given clozapine instead of olanzapine, two drugs used to treat schizophrenia...and the list goes on and on.

Pharmaceutical naming has many layers where mistakes can be made, not least at the testing level where most names are reduced simply to numbers. The problems expand when one considers how many prescriptions are written by doctors with bad handwriting, causing errors in differentiating brand names like "Lamisil and Lamictal, Cerebyx and Celebrex, Zyrtec and Zantac," and leading to 52 deaths in the five years between 1993-1998.

I have written before about the growing awareness of consumers about pharmaceutical brand naming and its safety implications. Dennis Quaid’s high profile case, it seems to me, is likely to bring more pressure to bear on drug makers to think extremely carefully about their product naming, and bring home to naming consultants the importance of each drug project they take on.

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Posted by William Lozito at December 5, 2007 7:57 PM
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