I have noticed in recent times that there is a lot of confusion amongst patients in regards to the names of their medications. Having done some investigation into this, it appears to be around certain medications that have come off of patent and the pharmacy is now dispensing the cheaper equivalent but under a different name which has confused many patients. So what does this all mean?

[pull_quote align=”left”]Drugs can have many different names[/pull_quote]Drugs can have many different names. When a drug is first discovered it is given a chemical name which is difficult and cumbersome to use. When a pharmaceutical company first markets a drug, it usually does so under a patent that allows only the pharmaceutical company that developed the drug to sell it. Drugs that are patented by a particular pharmaceutical company have to go through about 10-15 years of research, testing and trials before they are approved and sold to the public. The main priority is that the company can prove their drug is safe for use. Once the new drug is approved, the company that made and tested it receives a patent. This means that no other company can make that particular drug until the end of the patent, which is usually 10-15 years after the drug is released

In the pharmaceutical industry, the patent protection of drugs and medicines is of a particular importance, because drugs and medicines can easily be copied or imitated. Also this includes the significant research and development spending and the high risks associated with the development of a new drug. When a drug is approved by the relevant government agency responsible for ensuring that drugs are safe and effective, it is given a generic (official) name and a trade
(proprietary or brand) name. The trade name is developed by the company requesting approval for the drug and identifies it as the exclusive property of
that company. An example of this would be metformin which is an oral hypoglycaemic agent produced under licence by Bristol-Myers Squibb but is commonly known by its brand/trade name as Glucophage.

When a drug beomes off-patent the company may market its product under either the generic name or trade name. Other companies can file for approval to market the off-patent drug but they must use the same generic name but can create their own trade name. As a result, the same generic drug may be sold under either the generic name or one of many trade names.  Companies who reproduce a generic version of a drug only have to prove it is the same as the original, and that it is safe, therefore they spend less money on testing and research, so they can sell it cheaper.

To give an example again, a person who may be on a medication called Nexium (which protects the lining of your stomach), may get a drug called Nexol the next time when they attend their pharmacy. This is effectively the same as Nexium, but a cheaper version, by a differnt compnay. The generic name is omeprazole, so it is important to take note of these names of your drugs and write them down in a safe place that you will not lose. Just because a drug is cheaper or off patent, does not mean its less effective, in fact some people report that these drugs can be more effective.

In Ireland, the Irish Medicines Board is responsible for the regulation of drugs within Ireland. The best advice of all is to discuss with your pharmacist to avoid any confusion and to seek reassurance that the medication you are taking is accurate, safe and effective.


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