Understanding drug names and labels


Drugs are an integral part of every household. We store them for emergency situations as well as use them from time to time. Names of the drugs and labels are very important information and their basic knowledge is useful for everyone. In this article, this information is presented in a simple form so that a common person can understand these names and terms much more easily.

Introduction

Whenever we get some drugs from the hospital or market we find new names and are unable to make out what it is. While trying to read the contents of that drug on the drug wrapper or cover, we find still more complex chemical names against which their content value (like weight in the milligram) along with unknown abbreviations is mentioned. It becomes difficult to understand all the information which is given there on the drug cover or the wrapper.

Let us go through the basic concepts and information in this regard.

Name and contents of the drug

The name of the drug is a unique name given by the company to that drug. This name can resemble or appear phonetically to an ailment or the contents comprising that drug but that is not mandatory and most of the times it is only a conveniently selected name. The companies have to give a unique name for their product and it should not be same as the name of any drug by any other company.

This makes it necessary to take full care in giving a name to a new drug as existing names in the industry should not be duplicated. This given name is called the brand name of the drug. Some examples of brand names are Crocin, Pentocid, Aspro, Pregaba, Combiflam etc. Every drug has one or more chemical contents. These contents are known by their chemical names. These chemical names are the generic names of the drug. For example, Crocin contains 'paracetamol' so paracetamol is the generic name for this drug.

There may be many drugs on the market which may contain paracetamol but they will have different brand names. There could be a number of chemicals present in a drug. For example, a multivitamin-multimineral tablet can have 15 to 20 constituents in it. Out of which there could be 8-10 vitamins, 4-5 mineral and 3-4 trace elements. The quantity of each of these constituents will be written against their names. In general, the quantity of each constituent comprising in one tablet of a particular drug will be mentioned in mg (milligram) on the cover or wrapper of the drug.

For example, in drug Combiflam, one tablet contains - Ibuprofen 400 mg and Paracetamol 325 mg. Though most of the contents are expressed in mg there are some constituents which are expressed in the international unit (I.U.) which is an internationally agreed measurement of the potency of a particular biologic material like the vitamin. We will often see something like say 1000 I.U. written against some vitamin constituent in a drug. It means that the effectiveness of that vitamin is corresponding to 1000 I.U. This is to be understood in I.U. term only as there is no general conversion from I.U. to the milligram. It varies from vitamin to vitamin.

When prescribing medicines to a patient the doctor writes the brand name of medicines as per his choice. He has many options as there are many brand names available in the market for the same type of formulation. This is the reason why there is a lot of advertisement and marketing for these drugs and medical representatives will approach each and every doctor in their area to ensure that the doctors are well aware with the new brand names so that they can write those new names also in their prescriptions where ever applicable.

Type of drugs

As per the provision of 'The Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940' the drugs are classified mainly in three categories from their administration point of view which means in what manner they will be prescribed and consumed by the patients. These categories are -

  • Over the Counter
  • These are the drugs known as OTC drugs and can be sold without the doctors prescription. The legal framework for these medicines is yet not established in our country but Govt may come out with a list of OTC drugs soon along with a strong legislation for its usage. These can be purchased by the individuals and can be self-administered. However, the prolonged and continuous use of any drug, even OTC drug, is harmful to the body and should be avoided. Due to unavailability of clear guidelines in the matter the drugstores are selling many common medicines like Crocin or Anacin or Aspro without the prescription and treating them as OTC.

  • Schedule H drugs
  • The drugs under Schedule H are those drugs which are to be sold against the prescription of the doctor only. The quantity sold should not exceed that as mentioned in the prescription.

  • Schedule G drugs
  • These are the drugs or pharmaceutical preparations which are to be used only under the supervision of a doctor.

    Abbreviations and Warnings on Drug cover

    Generally, we find some abbreviations like IP, USP or BP etc written just after the name of the contents on the drug cover or wrapper. These are actually indicating the standards under which a particular drug is manufactured or prepared in a country. These standards are known as pharmacopoeia. IP stands for Indian pharmacopoeia, USP stands for US pharmacopoeia and BP stands for British Pharmacopoeia. Certain directions are mentioned on the drug cover or wrapper. Each of them has a specific meaning.

  • 'Oral' means drug can be taken by mouth.

  • 'Sublingual' means it is to be placed under the tongue for absorption.

  • 'i.v./i.m.' means only to be taken through injection.

  • 'For external use' means that it should not be consumed orally. For example creams and gels, for skin ailments, come in this category.

  • 'For nasal use' means that it should be inhaled only through nose.

  • 'Shake well before use' is mentioned on the bottles of medicine where the ingredients in the solutions have a tendency to settle down and accumulate at the lower side of the bottle. These bottles are to be shaken before use so that the patient body gets the intended dose of the medicine.

  • 'Use within one month of opening' means that the opened bottle or tube or phial should be used within one month of opening it. We always find this type of direction written on eye drops.

  • 'Keep in a cool, dry place' means it should be protected from heat and sunlight.

  • Conclusion

    The information provided on drug covers or wrappers is very specific and is mentioned to avoid any accidental use of the drug by people. The brand name is only to distinguish it from other drugs and should not be confused with the contents of the drug. Drugs should not be self-medicated by the people. A drug should only be taken after consulting a doctor.


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