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Drug Names and Drug Errors

Pharmaceutical drugs are vitally important to many people. But there are so many drugs available now that it is increasingly important to keep them all straight, so that medication errors do not occur.

These errors often occur in nursing homes, hospitals and other institutional settings. Patients being treated on an out-patient basis also are at risk. But confusing names for the plethora of drugs on the market only adds to the problems.

Federal regulators have tried to impose some order on this potential chaos by exercising authority to change drug names that were proposed by drug manufacturers. The Food and Drug Administration seeks to protect consumers in this way by regulating what drugs can be called.

Now, a drug manufacturing industry trade group wants to undermine this protection. A lobbying group called the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers claims that the FDA's power to review names should be revamped. The group points to a supposed lack of "validated measures or processes to define or determine when two proprietary names are similar."

To be sure, government processes can be complicated. But safety advocacy groups rightly point out that drug name mix ups - confusing one drug for another - is one of the most frequent causes of pharmaceutical errors.

One such watchdog group, the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, has compiled a database of nearly 800 often-confused drug pairs. "The FDA name-testing program provides a crucial safety benefit," wrote the group's president, Michael Cohen, in a blog post. "Without this set of eyes, there is little doubt that the number of serious errors could be far greater."

In other words, the proposal to undercut the FDA's review power on drug names would take an already existing problem of confusion about drug names and make it even worse.

Source: "Industry, FDA spar on names for drugs," Boston.com, 8-16-11

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