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Urgent call to change drug labelling -

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Urgent call to change drug labelling

Alison Caldwell reported this story on Wednesday, December 7, 2011 08:21:00

TONY EASTLEY: Medical experts are warning that poor labelling of drugs could lead to some patients
taking too much of their medication.

They want a new system to be devised so that brand names and active ingredients in medications are
made more obvious.

Here's Alison Caldwell.

ALISON CALDWELL: More often than not these days, when a consumer takes a prescription to a
pharmacist they're offered a cheaper generic alternative.

The brand is different but the active ingredient is usually the same. We're told it's all about
value for money for the consumer.

But according to an article in the latest edition of the Medical Journal of Australia, increasing
brand substitution is adding to the potential for consumer and doctor confusion and an increased
risk of medication errors.

The lead author is Professor Shane Carney from John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle.

SHANE CARNEY: Some of these generic medicines may have several different names so we're now seeing
a particular medication with between eight and 12 names, and that's causing confusion - mainly to
consumers but also to some degree to health professionals.

ALISON CALDWELL: What can we do about this?

SHANE CARNEY: What we're suggesting is that with every medicine, the active ingredient name - the
particular medicine they're taking - it needs to be very clearly defined.

It needs to have a very, probably a special colour, a special font, so that people can look at that
and realise what they're taking - because from time to time, people will take one medication, then
they'll be prescribed the same medication, go to a different pharmacy and they'll get a different
name.

So what happens is they're taking medication A and medication B, which is the same but they have
different names.

So from their point of view, I'm taking two different medications when in fact they're taking the
same medication twice.

ALISON CALDWELL: Professor Carney says the recent proliferation of anti-hypertensive medications,
called ACE inhibitors, illustrates the problem.

Twenty years ago there were only three ACE inhibitors available in Australia. Now there are eight.

SHANE CARNEY: They all work on blood pressure. They're all very similar. We have up to more than 80
names for these medications.

You can appreciate that if you've got all these different names floating around, you're going to
have complications. And I have seen it not just with patients but also doctors being a bit
confused.

ALISON CALDWELL: The Therapeutic Goods Administration is currently reviewing drug labelling and
packaging requirements.

The current guidelines call for the active ingredient of a drug to be displayed with equal or
greater prominence than the brand name.

Professor Carney says industry compliance with the voluntary guidelines is low.

SHANE CARNEY: TGA's heart's in the right place and they're trying to do the right thing, and their
guidelines I think are very responsible. But they're not binding to industry. And I hope they'll
come out with the same guidelines, similar guidelines, but they're mandatory - not just "you should
do this".

TONY EASTLEY: Professor Shane Carney from John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle ending Alison
Caldwell's report.