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Drugs' brand names are a source of confusion

The European Medicines Agency (EMEA) is allowing pharmaceutical companies to develop sales strategies based on drugs' brand names, at the risk of creating confusion for patients.

Drugs have an International Nonproprietary Name (INN), established by the World Health Organization (WHO), according to a logical system. Pharmaceutical companies prefer imaginative names or brand names on which they build brand loyalty strategies, as in any other commercial sector.

In 2008, the European Medicines Agency (EMEA) published new recommendations concerning drug brand names aimed at pharmaceutical companies. Regrettably, these backtrack on the previous recommendations. EMEA has not taken into account the proposals resulting from the public consultation, which prioritised patient safety. On the contrary, it is pharmaceutical companies' interests that prevail, increasing the risk of exposing patients to drug errors.

For example, the EMEA now considers that abbreviations and suffixes (such as "cold") are acceptable, whereas they can create confusion for patients. At the request of pharmaceutical companies, the EMEA recognises brand names comprising several words, which enables companies to market drugs of different compositions under a single brand name, etc.

Drugs that differ from one country to another have the same brand name; drugs of the same composition have different brand names... only the INN makes it possible to tell what’s what.

©Prescrire November 2009

"Confusion entre noms commerciaux (suite)" Rev Prescrire 2009; 29 (307): 380-382 (pdf, subscribers only)

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For more information:

"Use the INN to avoid
confusion between drugs"
Prescrire Int 2009;
18 (103): 214
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