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Prescrire's review of drug packaging in 2017: some progress, but many risks remain

In 2017, unchallenged by overly lenient health authorities, a large number of pharmaceutical companies continued to launch, or to maintain on the market, drugs with dangerous packaging.

Over the past 37 years, Prescrire has analysed around 7000 drug packaging items. Over time, some progress has been observed: improved awareness of the risks of errors to which dangerous packaging exposes patients; more labelling using the international nonproprietary name (INN), a drug's real name; improvement in the quality of dosing devices; more frequent use of child-proof caps.

Progress is mainly due to changing regulatory requirements and to health authorities publishing recommendations for increased patient safety – measures that owe much to pressure from civil society. But pharmaceutical companies and medicines agencies do not apply them rigorously enough.

In 2017, Prescrire analysed the packaging of 318 pharmaceutical products. The findings included: many bulk bottles of medicines still in use, instead of secure, more practical and safer unit packs; bottles without child-proof caps; and international nonproprietary names (INNs) that are not clearly visible on the boxes or labels.

At the end of 2017, the French Health Products Agency (Agence française du médicament, ANSM) recommended that unit-dose blisters should be the quality standard for tablets and capsules, and at the beginning of 2018 it requested that umbrella ranges be discontinued – two welcome announcements.

Healthcare professionals have an important role to play in choosing, from amongst similar medicines, the one with the best-quality packaging, in explaining any complex instructions for use to patients, and in notifying medicines agencies of dangers identified with certain packaging.

©Prescrire 1 July 2018

"Drug packaging in 2017: quality is improving, but many dangers remain" Prescrire Int 2018; 27 (195): 191-195 (Pdf, free).

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Download the full review.
Pdf, free

See also:

2017 Prescrire
Packaging Awards
(January 2018)

Drug packaging
and patient safety
healthcare policy)