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Advancing healthcare policy

The INN, a drug's real name

Promoting the use of international nonproprietary names (INNs): In brief

INN   The international nonproprietary name (INN) of a drug (meaning here a pharmaceutical substance) is its real name. There are many advantages to using INNs rather than brand names when thinking about, speaking about and prescribing drugs.
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A drug's international nonproprietary name (INN) provides information about its therapeutic class or mechanism of action, and therefore about its adverse effects and interactions.
INNs are assigned by the World Health Organization (WHO), using a structured method with precise objectives.

In addition, INNs make it possible to focus, in total independence, on what really matters when choosing a medical treatment: first the choice of drug, then the dose and the pharmaceutical form.

There are many advantages to using INNs rather than brand names when thinking about, speaking about and prescribing drugs: greater understanding of drugs, lower risk of confusion between INNs than between brand names, and freedom from the influence of pharmaceutical companies' marketing strategies.

The aim of familiarising patients with INNs is to improve their understanding of their treatment, to prevent certain risky situations such as concomitant treatment with several products containing the same active substance, and to better identify drugs to avoid or interactions mentioned in leaflets.

Using INNs in everyday practice is not difficult. The use of INNs helps improve the quality of health care, if thoroughly grasped and adapted to each patient.

In some cases it is useful to state the drug's brand name as well as its INN: this applies to certain drugs and certain clinical situations, or may help prevent confusion between different forms of the same active substance.

©Prescrire September 2018